By: Marty Price
Thirty college interns are participating in an 11-week research project on the North Carolina Research Campus. The Plant Pathways Elucidation Project continues research of previous interns into why and how plants can benefit human health.
Holli Chandler, 21, an intern from Catawba College, is working with a group studying the anti-cancer properties of broccoli. She enjoys the work atmosphere: “It’s not like our regular college classes, where we have to go to class and then have a three-hour lab,” she said. “It’s a lot of hands-on and I feel like I am getting a lot of experience.”
The P2EP project, a collaboration on the Kannapolis research campus between labs at N.C. State and UNC Charlotte, is designed to advance research into plant pathways of key crops while giving interns lab exposure to cutting-edge technologies.
The project aims to prepare the students for careers in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields as they help seven graduate students with the research into the key crops, leading to better understanding of the plants medicinal properties.
The project, headed by Dr. Mary Ann Lila, director of the Plants for Human Health Institute, and Dr. Cory Brouwer, director of Bioinformatic Services at UNCC, has received more than $2 million in funding, which has allowed 74 interns to receive this special training.
Debora Esposito, director of the Cell Culture Core Facility was supervising second-year intern Brianna Lund, 22, who just graduated from Western Carolina University, as Lund used the EVOS FL Auto Cell Imaging system – a new fluorescent microscope – to look at the human dermal fibroblast cells they were studying.
“This microscope is a very new, cutting-edge microscope that we have had for less than two months and we are letting the students use it,” said Esposito. Her group is studying the wound-healing properties of plant extracts by adding them to cells to learn if the cells migrate faster with the extracts.
Chika Igba, 21, an intern from UNCC, said, “It is an amazing program. It is awesome to get the opportunity to look at plants differently. Normally we only think of plants in terms of food but we don’t think of their medicinal properties. This is a great opportunity to explore that.
“You need to be passionate about science, passionate about learning and open minded to different experiences to be part of this program.”
The students will hold weekly presentations on their findings to the leaders and other members of the STEM community. The interns will trade their lab coats for aprons later in the program: In partnership with the Cabarrus Health Alliance, the students will give cooking demonstrations to illustrate how to use the foods that they have studied.
The capstone event of the summer will be a research symposium July 29 at the NCRC; the interns will present an overview of their summer research.
“I’m so excited I can’t stop talking about it (P2EP),” said Chandler. “Every time I leave this place, it is all I talk about. If we find something that is beneficial for our health and tastes good, why not eat it.”