By Marla Utley, Science Teacher, Capistrano Valley Christian Schools
Recently Capistrano Valley Christian Schools senior, Alexandra Peregord and I participated in a very special program called the Weekend Research Experience at California State University Fullerton. It was part of a series of research experiences developed by Dr. Maria C. Linder and supported by a grant of more than $2.4 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
Research Director Dr. Melanie A. Sacco, studies disease resistance in plants related to tobacco (Nicotiana). Plants are under constant attack from a variety of pathogens. To protect themselves, they produce a protein product called an immune receptor that will cause infected cells to carry out programmed cell death.
Revealing itself as dead patches on leaves, the hypersensitivity response develops from a type of immunity called Gene-for-Gene Resistance. The immune systems of plants differ from those of humans in that they have one gene that can recognize one pathogen. This means that if disease-causing genetic material is slightly different from another, the plant is left unprotected against it.
Dr. Sacco’s lab has found that an unknown resistance gene produces an immune receptor that protects Nicotiana glutinosa. Alex’s job, as a research participant, was to determine whether her plant, Nicotiana edwardsonii, had the gene that affords this same type of protection. Its immunity would be revealed by the hypersensitivity response.
Using a lab protocol designed by Dr. Sacco, Alex isolated viral ribonucleic acid (RNA), prepared complementary deoxyribonucleic acid (cDNA), amplified its quantity using polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and analyzed the resulting fragments using gel electrophoresis. She then used Agrobacteria tumefaciens transformed with three types of viral DNA to determine whether her plant was resistant.
This was accomplished by using two procedures called agroinfiltration and rub inoculation. Alex found that her plant was resistant to the viruses in question and therefore, it must contain the resistance gene. She presented her findings to Dr. Linder, Dr. Sacco and the other program participants using state-of-the-art multimedia.
“The experience was an exciting compilation of many of the concepts I have acquired from the teachers at CVCS. It left me with a great deal of appreciation for my own school’s science program, as many of the procedures we do here along with the concepts needed to explain them, all but over-prepared me for what we were doing in an actual laboratory at Cal State Fullerton. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to help Dr. Sacco.” ~Alexandra Peregord
Alex was one of only eight high school students selected from a pool of applicants that included CSUF and community college students from all over Orange County. This speaks to the caliber of this young lady.
As a small school, we do not have the resources available to provide this type of research experience of which she and so many of our students are capable. This illustrates the importance of the CSUF Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Programs developed by Dr. Linder.
Students are given tangible experiences upon which to draw as they consider a future in the sciences. As a teacher, the experience has increased my understanding of Molecular Biology, which I am able to pass along to my students. All of us here at CVCS appreciate the real-world research opportunity they have provided to Alex and students like her.
For more information on Dr. Sacco’s research, Dr. Linder’s research or on the CSUF Howard Hughes Medical Institute Research Programs see http://hhmi.fullerton.edu/default.asp.
For more information on Capistrano Valley Christian Schools see http://www.cvcs.org.