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Plant Research for Undergraduates Offered


Ten Undergraduate Students do Plant Cell Research at UC Riverside

Ten Undergraduate Students do Plant Cell Research at UC Riverside

(July 19, 2004)

Arabidopsis leaf epidermal cells

Arabidopsis leaf epidermal cells

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — www.ucr.edu — Ten undergraduate students from around the nation are spending their summer at the University of California, Riverside studying plant and fungal cell biology with some of the top faculty researchers in the field. The program is designed to spark interest in furthering academic studies, scientific careers and possibly making scientific breakthroughs.

The 10 undergraduates, chosen from more than 70 applicants, are enrolled in the UCR NSF-Research Experience for Undergraduates Program in Plant Cell Biology. The 10-week program is taking place at the Center for Plant Cell Biology at UC Riverside. The students, each tutored by a faculty member and graduate or postgraduate mentor, are conducting research in developing areas of plant cell biology in which UCR has expertise, including genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics.

The program, now in its third summer, is funded by a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation. The students spend the majority of their stay conducting a research project of their choice.

“Several of the student projects involve chemical genomics,” said program director Julia Bailey-Serres, a professor of genetics in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences at UCR. “We’re using pharmacology to identify mechanisms in plant cells, so students screen large chemical libraries for compounds that cause specific traits or characteristics in a plant or plant cell.”

The UC Riverside Center for Plant Cell Biology is the only academic facility doing that kind of research with plants, Bailey-Serres says. The research has multiple uses.

“The work that is done at the center can translate nicely to crop species, and in some ways the basic biology in a plant can translate to animal systems,” Bailey-Serres said. “The students are involved in looking for specific drugs that cause specific traits in a plant, which is really state-of-the-art plant research, and these students are coming in on the ground floor.”
Bailey-Serres says students are also studying RNAi, which may be useful for drug therapies.

The program is designed to attract students from junior colleges and universities that don’t have advanced research programs. Several students have graduated from local community colleges, and continue to work toward research publications begun earlier.

“The idea is to attract students who are promising, then getting them into the lab to figure out if they want to do this as a career,” she said. “There are at least three students from the previous two years who have gone on to grad programs at UCR, and others who have gone on to grad programs elsewhere.”

A further enrichment aspect of the program allows the students to participate in workshops that enhance learning skills and professional development, and to discuss ethics in science.

Each of the students has received a $3,900 stipend. They are housed on campus and given an allowance for meals. The students are all citizens or permanent residents of the United States, with one of the program’s goals to provide meaningful research opportunities to underrepresented minorities.

The program, which brought its participants to campus June 14, culminates with a research symposium from noon to 2 p.m. on Aug. 20 in the Science Library, room 240. For more information, contact professor Bailey-Serres at (951) 827-3738.

The Center for Plant Cell Biology (CEPCEB) focuses on a diverse group of plants and fungi that provide the foundation for all life on earth. Capitalizing on the scientific momentum created by the genome sequencing of two important plants - Arabidopsis and rice - CEPCEB seeks to develop a comprehensive understanding of how plants function as whole organisms. The goal of this scientific challenge, involving an interdisciplinary effort, is to apply the knowledge of how plants respond to their dynamic environments to manipulate crop plants safely and efficiently for better and more sustainable production. As part of the Institute for Integrative Genome Biology at UC Riverside, the Center for Plant Cell Biology integrates genomic, bioinformatic, cellular, molecular, biochemical, and genetic approaches to address significant outstanding questions in plant biology.

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The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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