N.C. State Uses Blueberry Genome Project to Train Scientists of Tomorrow

Cutting-edge research on sequencing the blueberry genome will be incorporated into college curriculum at Davidson College and Lenoir-Rhyne University, in cooperation with N.C. State University at the N.C. Research Campus. Students will be involved in identifying specific genes that can be used to produce plants with desired characteristics, as well as learning from scientists who are leading the effort to sequence the blueberry genome.

Dr. Allan Brown, with the N.C. State University Plants for Human Health Institute, was recently awarded a grant for $82,247 from the N.C. Biotechnology Center. The grant will support a program that was pilot tested the past couple of years by Brown and Dr. A. Malcolm Campbell, a biology professor at Davidson. The two will expand the program to include Lenoir-Rhyne, with plans to involve other undergraduate programs across the state.

Brown is leading a national team that is sequencing the blueberry genome. The partnership with undergraduate programs in the state is a dimension of the project that seeks to strengthen students’ competitiveness in the biotechnology workforce.

“The beauty of this project,” says Brown, “is that it incorporates genomic research directly into the classroom and provides students the opportunity to participate in ongoing research. What we’ve learned by working with Davidson College is that their students are choosing projects that complement our research.”

According to Campbell, “Working with a funded researcher such as Dr. Brown puts our students on the cutting-edge of science.”

Campbell oversees the Genome Consortium for Active Teaching, an international network of undergraduate faculty who facilitate undergraduate genomics research in the classroom. Campbell enjoys the authentic research for his students. “For the third year in a row, Davidson students have
helped blueberry breeders from around the world understand how their crop works. For the past two years, our students have generated genetic markers that breeders can use to improve the quality of blueberries for traits that are important for nutrition and marketability. Through our multi-institutional collaboration, we are helping students, farmers and the state of North Carolina. What’s not to love about this way of teaching?”

With the grant support, Brown plans to work with Campbell and Dr. Scott Schaefer, assistant professor of biology, Lenoir-Rhyne University, to develop resources, tools, tutorials and web interfaces to facilitate genomic and bioinformatics education. The funding will also help support the design and implementation of plant genomic courses at the two schools. It also will be used to continue to strengthen the relationship between researchers at the N.C. Research Campus and undergraduate programs.

“I’m looking forward to working with Dr. Brown on this investigation of the blueberry genome,” said Schaefer. “This project will give our students the opportunity to investigate both the theoretical and applied areas of bioinformatics, while conducting genetic research. This will be an exciting endeavor for all of our students.”

“We will use the data generated from the blueberry genome sequencing project to teach students how to search the genome, identify gene structure and function, and conduct comparative analysis with other plants,” explained Brown. “In addition, students will learn how to identify repetitive content and other features within the plant genome. They will also conduct automated and manual annotation of gene structure.”

The project will initially involve about 20 upper level students but organizers are looking toward ways to expand the effort statewide.

According to Campbell, the project “is a way to increase competitiveness of the North Carolina workforce in next-generation genomics and DNA data analysis.”

Courtesy NC State

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