Summer of Research

Ten rising sophomores at UC Riverside get working in the lab on experiments related to the citrus genome

Ten UC Riverside undergraduates are participating in an eight-week summer research program on campus.Photo credit: I. Pittalwala, UC Riverside.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Ten soon-to-be-sophomores at the University of California, Riverside were recently selected by a panel of UC Riverside researchers to participate in an eight-week summer research program that has the students characterize the citrus genome. In their experiments, the students are focusing especially on transposable elements—DNA elements that can multiply and change their location within an organism’s genome.

Discovered in the 1940s, for years transposable elements were thought to be unimportant and were called “junk DNA.”  But now scientists recognize that these bits of DNA play vital roles in gene and genome evolution, and are important genetic tools for genome engineering.

Alex Cortez is an academic coordinator and instructor in the Dynamic Genome Program at UC Riverside.Photo credit: James Burnette III, UC Riverside.

Alex Cortez is an academic coordinator and instructor in the Dynamic Genome Program at UC Riverside.Photo credit: James Burnette III, UC Riverside.

The “Dynamic Genome Scholars,” as the ten rising sophomores are being called, use a combination of computational and molecular biology to do their analyses in the cutting-edge Neil A. Campbell Science Learning Laboratory on campus.

“This is a very exciting opportunity for the selected students because the research program gives them exposure to research experience in the life sciences,” said Alex Cortez, an academic coordinator and instructor in the Dynamic Genome Program. “The students learn skills that prepare them well for professional careers in science.”

Now in its third week, the research program, which is funded by a two-year grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, began June 30, 2014 and will end on August 15, 2014. The selected students work in the Learning Lab from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. They receive a $4,000 stipend as well as housing on campus (two students have chosen to commute).

Leslie Zumela Aranda is a UC Riverside undergraduate.Photo credit: I. Pittalwala, UC Riverside.

Leslie Zumela Aranda is a UC Riverside undergraduate.Photo credit: I. Pittalwala, UC Riverside.

The ten Dynamic Genome Scholars are: Leslie Zulema Aranda, Leslie Bañuelos, Katherine Espinoza, Zoe Figueroa, Cameron Hatch, Steve Lu, Shivam Patel, Alyssa Rodriguez, Jenna Roper and Travis Wrightsman.

“Already, this program has been incredible for me,” Aranda said. “We are doing the experiments ourselves, taking measurements and seeing the results. It’s very hands-on. I have friends who have taken regular biology labs, and they don’t do half the things we’re doing.”

In Week 2, the scholars attended a workshop at the Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), Claremont, Calif., where they studied agribusiness focusing on food sustainability, a topic of interest to the UC Global Food Initiative recently announced by UC President Janet Napolitano. With guidance from KGI faculty and graduate students, the Dynamic Genome Scholars investigated the role of genetically engineered crops in the future of agriculture.

Travis Wrightsman is a UC Riverside undergraduate.Photo credit: I. Pittalwala, UC Riverside.

Travis Wrightsman is a UC Riverside undergraduate.Photo credit: I. Pittalwala, UC Riverside.

“This program and the visit to KGI opened my eyes to more opportunities in the work place,” Wrightsman said. “It has shown me that this kind of research is a more suitable place for me to invest my efforts, rather than a medical school. I would recommend this program to any science freshman who is willing to invest time and effort over the summer in a lab to learn practical skills that could be useful later when looking for a career. I would recommend this program also to those freshmen who don’t know what they want to do—just so they can understand their options.”

To qualify for the program, applicants had to have earned a “B” or higher in the Biology 20 course taken in Fall 2013, Winter 2014, or Spring 2014. They must also have a 3.0 GPA or higher. Each applicant also turned in a 400-word personal statement discussing how the Dynamic Genome Scholars program would benefit him/her. Individuals selected for the program were interviewed in early May 2014. More than 30 freshmen applied for the ten available spots.

Media Contact


Tel: (951) 827-6050
E-mail: iqbal@ucr.edu
Twitter: UCR_Sciencenews

Additional Contacts

Alex Cortez
Tel: (951) 827-7864
E-mail: alejandro.cortez@ucr.edu

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