BEST Students Teachers Trade Summer Fun For Biotech Skills

Richard T. Tulley, Blanchard, Tobie M., Benedict, Linda F.  |  4/19/2005 10:29:04 PM

News Release Distributed 7/22/04  

Forget hanging out at the mall or lounging by the pool. Six Louisiana high school student-teacher pairs spent six weeks of their summer in biotechnology labs, doing such things as extracting termite guts and taking skin biopsies from goats.

They are part of the LSU AgCenter’s BEST – Biotechnology Education for Students and Teachers, a program in its third year and dedicated to preparing future scientists.

Holden High School science teacher Kay Gersch applied for the program because she wanted to take a more hands-on approach in her biology classes.

"The students are interested. They hear about DNA. They hear about how crime scenes are investigated, and they want to know about that kind of thing," Gersch said. "I had taught about cloning. But it was through discussion and reading papers. There was no hands-on work."

This summer she and her student helper, Holden High junior Casey Davidson, learned such techniques as how to characterize bacteria in the guts of Formosan subterranean termites.

Gersch and Davidson worked in the lab of Dr. Claudia Husseneder, an LSU AgCenter entomologist who studies termites.

"We provide the supervision, with teaching and the background, but they do exactly what we do normally," Husseneder said.

In that lab "normal" means pulling the guts out of termites and cloning the bacteria found there. The researchers – and in this case, the BEST participants – then create DNA sequences to determine what species of bacteria live in the termite.

This wasn’t just busy work for the pair to get their biotechnological feet wet. This research has implications for controlling this devastating pest.

"One avenue to controlling the termite is to use bacteria," Hussender said. "We need to find out first what are the bacteria living in the guts, what are they good for and can the termite live without them."

At the LSU AgCenter’s Embryo Biotechnology Laboratory in St. Gabriel, Welch High School senior Kasey Hardy worked with horses, learned about cloning and created a cell line from goat biopsies.

"It’s been a different kind of summer," he said. "Otherwise, I would be at home working as a janitor. Here I get to learn things that can help me with a career."

Hardy wants to major in biology and plans a career in the medical profession.

His teacher, Tonna Meche, said her experience inspired her to think about taking a sabbatical and coming back to LSU to finish her master’s degree.

"I can take the practical application of the scientific method and the cloning process back to my community," Meche said.

The BEST summer program for high school students and teachers is just one part of the BEST effort. It also includes postdoctoral fellowships, graduate fellowships and undergraduate research opportunities.

"The goal of BEST is to enhance the quality of science education in the state and encourage science as a career," said Dr. Richard Tulley, the program director. "The researchers benefit as well."

For Husseneder, it was helpful to have two extra eager hands working in her lab.

"We enjoy seeing people get excited about our research," she said. "For us it is just routine. But for them, light bulbs go off. It’s a great experience."

The four other pairs of students and teachers involved in the summer program included:

–Baker High School teacher Wiley Iverstine and student David Wistrand, who also worked at the Embryo Biotechnology Lab.

–Teacher Paul Morein and his student Lyrone Moore from Valley Park Alternative High School in Lafayette, who worked in the LSU AgCenter’s Veterinary Science lab.

–Barbe High School teacher Jason Van Metre and student Michael Kingrey from Lake Charles, who also worked in the Veterinary Science lab.

–Teacher Nabila Qasem and student Doha Ezzir from Brighter Horizon School in Baton Rouge, who conducted research on nutrition signaling with Dr. Roy Martin, director of the LSU AgCenter’s School of Human Ecology.

"We were shocked," Qasem said in describing the results of their project. They found a high level of satiety using cells from mice that simulated the popular low-carb diet.

Tulley said the results from the BEST program won’t be known for another 10 to 15 years. The five-year program was funded with a $2.5 million grant from the Gordon A. Cain Foundation. But Tulley is seeking funds to continue BEST beyond that time.

"It keeps getting better," said Dr. William Hansel, a scientist with both the LSU AgCenter and Pennington Biomedical Research Center and one of the writers of the BEST grant request.

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Contact:
Richard Tulley at (225) 578-7879 or rtulley@agcenter.lsu.edu
Writers:
Tobie Blanchard at (225) 578-5649 or tblanchard@agcenter.lsu.edu
Linda Foster Benedict at (225) 578-2937 or lbenedict@agcenter.lsu.edu

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