P2EP Research Symposium Recognizes Student Achievement at NC Research Campus

August 04, 2015

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KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – In 11-weeks, the 30 undergraduate interns in the Plant Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP) graduated from students to scientists as demonstrated by the research results shared at the third annual P2EP Research Symposium held July 29 at the NC Research Campus (NCRC).

Seven intern teams worked under the guidance of a lead researcher and a graduate mentor. Each team presented a five-minute synopsis of their research this summer. They also prepared scientific posters, a common method of sharing research at conferences, to highlight research methods and results. Fourteen posters were part of the poster competition, judged by representatives from academic and industry partners of NCRC. The winners of the poster competition were:

  • 1st Place: Holli Chandler, Catawba College; Claire Thetford, N.C. State University
  • 2nd Place: Sierra Bonney, Pfeiffer University; Matthew Jordan-Steele, Catawba College; Conor Reid, UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Honorable Mention: Aaron Trautman, UNC Charlotte; Alexis Wilson, UNC Charlotte

Chandler and Thetford’s research team looked at the effect of broccoli extract on human colon cancer cells assessed by doing an assay in the cell culture lab of Dr. Slavko Kormarnytsky. Thetford, a junior majoring in biological sciences, says, “When we started this program, I didn’t know that I could do this level of research. Our mentor [Weston Bussler] and advisor [Kormarnytsky] let us bounce ideas off them and, with their guidance, we essentially ran our own experiments.” Reid, a junior in applied science, is in his first year as a P2EP intern, but his third summer of doing research at the NCRC. Reid’s P2EP team analyzed data from the oat genome to identify candidate genes responsible for the synthesis of beta-glucan and two phenolic compounds that are known to have human health benefits. He reflects on the value of this internship by saying, “A friend of mine is interning for a major research company, but she’s been washing dishes all summer. Here, we are working alongside PhD candidates, getting a taste of all that professional research encompasses.”

In addition to student presentations, guest speakers at the Symposium included three of the graduate mentors, Weston Bussler and Scott Smith from NC State University and Richard Linchangco from UNC Charlotte. The PhD students shared their research objectives, including how the interns were able to assist the progression of their work. Dr. Massimo Iorrizo, assistant professor at NC State University, also addressed invited guests, sharing his research experience and goals for improving the health benefits of small fruits and vegetables as he begins building his breeding and genomics research program at NC State’s Plants for Human Health Institute.

In the first three years of P2EP, research has focused on blueberry, broccoli, oat and strawberry. In 2016, banana and pineapple are slated to join the research agenda. Discussions are underway to add two Dole Food Company-sponsored PhD students with scientists from Costa Rica, who visited the campus and attended the Symposium.

“The program momentum is growing,” said Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute, “We are excited about the addition of banana and pineapple research, two economically important, health-relevant crops, in partnership with top scholars from Costa Rica.” As this year’s Symposium came to a close, there was marked excitement about the future success of the 2015 intern class and the future of the P2EP program.

Pictures from the Symposium:

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About P2EP

P2EP is a collaborative training and education program designed to advance research on key crops while preparing students for successful careers in STEM fields. In three years, P2EP received over $2 million in funding allowing 74 interns to receive training in advanced fields of scientific inquiry and supporting the programs of seven graduate students. Sponsors are Cabarrus Economic Development Council, Castle and Cooke, Catawba College, David H. Murdock Research Institute, Dole Nutrition Institute, Duke Energy Foundation, General Mills, Inc., Holiday Inn – Kannapolis, Johnson C. Smith University, Linguamatics Ltd., Livingstone College, N.C. Biotechnology Center, N.C. Research Campus, N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute, Pfeiffer University, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Turner Construction, UNC Charlotte Bioinformatics Services Division, UNC General Administration and Winston-Salem State University. For more information, visit


Media Contact:
Megan Bame, Extension Associate, Communications
Plant for Human Health Institute, 704-250-5461 or

Jennifer Woodford, Media & Communications Manager,
NC Research Campus/David H. Murdock Research Institute, 704-200-5070 or


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