BELLEVUE, WASH. – BCC science students will go beyond soaking up knowledge to actually creating it in ongoing, original genomics research funded by a three-year, $478,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Results of students’ research will be deposited at the global library of genomic information at the National Center for Biotechnology for further use by the worldwide research community.
One of BCC’s project partners — the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) primary research arm, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at Washington State University — will provide the genetic content of a specific bacterium, one not being studied at any other institution, for BCC students to analyze and sequence.
Because this organism, Pseudomonas fluorescens, is considered potentially useful for protecting wheat and barley from devastating root disease, research by BCC students could eventually be used by other scientists to develop ways to improve grain production worldwide.
“The USDA Agricultural Research Services welcomes the opportunity to partner with BCC on this project because it gives students the opportunity to develop expertise with cutting-edge molecular biology techniques,” said Dr. David M. Weller, who is joined in this project by his fellow ARS microbiologist and research scientist, Dr. Linda Thomashow.
“We are also pleased to involve BCC because plant scientists worldwide, including those of us here at ARS, can use the results to come from the students’ research to explore new ways to enhance wheat and barley production in Washington and nationwide and reduce the need for chemical pesticides,” Weller said.
By engaging students in the excitement of original scientific research early in their college experience, BCC and its partners expect to encourage more students to pursue careers in science.
“This grant from NSF will give our students something that is all too rare at the undergraduate level: the chance to grapple with the complexities and ambiguities of real research instead of doing “canned” lab exercises that produce a predetermined result. Our students will actually step beyond their role as knowledge consumers to become knowledge producers,” said Project Director Dr. Gita Bangera, a BCC instructor whose experience includes research in bacterial molecular biology at Harvard University, the University of Washington, Washington State University and the University of Copenhagen.
“The need for people with expertise in molecular biology is growing rapidly as we find more and more applications for DNA-based technology in areas such as medical diagnostics, agriculture, environmental protection and forensics,” Bangera said. “The need for employees with expertise in this field is expected to far exceed the number of trained graduates.”
The grant will also fund the development of new curriculum to maximize the instructional impact of the research opportunity.
BCC will base its curriculum on the successful model developed by Dr. Cheryl Kerfeld, education director at the Joint Genome Institute (JGI) of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who is co-directing the project with Bangera.
Both the ARS and JGI will also provide summer opportunities for BCC students to work alongside professional researchers in advanced scientific laboratories. Students from underserved populations will be especially encouraged to take part.
Supported by a grant of $10,000 from Univar — a Bellevue-based, worldwide chemical supplier — BCC will purchase a new Applied Biosystems, Inc. (ABI), DNA sequencer for instructional and student laboratory use. ABI is contributing in-kind support toward the purchase.