Debora Esposito

P2EP Creates Career Path for Former Intern

November 03, 2016

Bonney at the 2015 P2EP Research Symposium

When Sierra Bonney, Plant Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP) alumnus, goes to work at the N.C. State Plants for Human Health Institute (PHHI) on the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis, she realizes she has come full circle.

In 2015, while studying biology and chemistry at Pfeiffer University, just 30 minutes northeast of the NCRC, Bonney became a P2EP summer intern. P2EP is sponsored by multiple partners from the NCRC and provides students like Bonney the unique experience of research at the lab bench, face time with leading researchers in nutrition science, and professional development opportunities.

During her summer with P2EP, Bonney studied the beta-glucan content of oats. Beta-glucans include a group of polysaccharides found in the cell walls of cereal, yeast, bacteria, and fungi, and they have a variety of health benefits for the immune and cardiovascular systems.

“I learned so much from my summer at P2EP, and I can’t imagine where I would be now without the scientists I met and research skills I developed,” Bonney said. “It was truly a meaningful and influential experience.”

Under the guidance of a graduate mentor and PhD student Scott Smith, Bonney and a team of interns worked together in identifying and characterizing the genes involved in the production of beta glucan in oats.


Bonney with fellow P2EP intern Conor Reid (left) and their mentor, Scott Smith (center)

“Sierra had a real desire to understand the topics and techniques we were learning,” Smith said. “Mentoring a student with passion like hers makes it so easy. She always put in the time it took to grasp difficult concepts.”

Before beginning at PHHI, Bonney spent a few months involved in diabetes research at the NCRC. “When I applied, I didn’t think I had a chance of even getting an interview,” Bonney said. “But when I eventually got the job, my supervisor said that my experience with P2EP helped me stand out as a candidate.”

When the program ended, the P2EP colleagues she stayed in touch with let her know about the position at PHHI as a research technician with Debora Esposito, PhD, an assistant professor of regenerative medicin.  Esposito’s research involves tissue regeneration and repair involving basic scientific discoveries in the areas of phytochemistry, regenerative medicine, and skin care.

Bonney is currently working on her application for graduate school at N.C. State, and she plans on evolving from a lab technician into a PhD student in Esposito’s lab in the coming months. Research and academia encompass Bonney’s plans for the future, and she credits her experience with P2EP and the people she met there for a lot of her success.

“I have such a huge passion for research, especially when it comes to nutrition and health,” Bonney said. “Working with Dr. Esposito and scientists from P2EP has put me on the right track to make my own discoveries in the field.”


By Kara Marker, NCRC Marketing

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