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Roots in Textiles, Future in Science

July 17, 2014

As published in Cabarrus Magazine.

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On the first day of the Plant Pathways Elucidation Project (P2EP) at the NC Research Campus (NCRC), Camry Wagner was a bit overwhelmed. First, by the intensity of the research she would be conducting this summer and, second, by the fact she was doing scientific research in her hometown of Kannapolis.

IMG_2360Wagner graduated this year from UNC Wilmington with a biology degree. Her grandmother suggested she look at the NCRC for opportunities. “I ended up seeing P2EP. Plants, human health and nutrition- I can’t think of any better combination,” she said.

Wagner attended Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Kannapolis and then Harris Road Middle and JM Robinson High School, both in Concord. She has memories of the Cannon Mills smoke stacks and the Christmas lights on the mill lake on Main Street where the David H. Murdock Core Laboratory now stands.  Her mother and grandfather as mill employees met NCRC founder David H. Murdock, who owned Cannon Mills and then Fieldcrest Cannon in the 1980s.

The mill eventually became Pillowtex and, after almost 100 years of operation in downtown Kannapolis, closed in 2003. The NCRC was built on the 350-acre, former mill site.

“I think literally every person in my family worked in the mill,” Wagner recalled. “My grandparents worked in the mill. I would even bet my great-grandparents did. My mom did. My dad did. My aunts and uncles, they did, and I’m here doing scientific research. It blows my mind.”

Wagner is one of 34 interns and six PhD candidates from 12 colleges and universities and two high schools, AL Brown and Cannon School, in P2EP. Of the interns, all but three are from Kannapolis, Concord, Salisbury and the Charlotte area.

P2EP brings together academic and industry partners to advance research into plant pathways to understand how plants produce bioactive compounds like polyphenols or anthocyanins that can benefit human health by improving nutrition and preventing disease. The students are divided into teams studying blueberries, strawberries, broccoli and oats. Wagner is part of the strawberry/post-harvest group led by Penny Perkins-Veazie, PhD, with NC State Plant for Human Health Institute.

The program is supported by $1.9 million in contributions from: Cabarrus Economic Development, Catawba College, David H. Murdock Research Institute, Dole Foods, Duke Energy, General Mills, Holiday Inn – Kannapolis, Johnson C. Smith University, NC State University, Pfeiffer University, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Turner Construction, UNC Charlotte, UNC General Administration and Winston-Salem State University.

For Wagner, P2EP is about more than research. “Growing up and driving past the mill every day, it is just not something I saw (that) the NC Research Campus was going to be here, and I was going to be doing scientific research on the same land that my grandparents and my parents grew up working on,” she said. “I can really see myself having a career here. I would love to be a part of any of the research being done here.”

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