Biotechnology Challenging States BEST Teachers Students

Richard T. Tulley  |  6/22/2005 2:37:53 AM

News Release Distributed 06/21/05

"Science really is my favorite subject," said Valerie Traylor. "This program helps me know what I’ll be doing in college."

Traylor, a senior at Natchitoches High School, came to Baton Rouge for the summer with her high school science teacher Patricia Beaudion.

The two are among six pairs of high school students and teachers who are in Baton Rouge to participate in the Biotechnology Education for Students and Teachers summer program sponsored by the LSU AgCenter.

Now in its fourth summer, the program, known as BEST, for short, provides high school science teachers with the know-how, tools and research skills to enhance their curriculums with more biotechnology education, said Dr. Richard Tulley, BEST coordinator for the LSU AgCenter.

The program also gives a select group of students the opportunity to work with some of the state’s best and brightest research scientists.

"This experience will encourage science as a career and inspire further scientific study that will ultimately benefit Louisiana and the world," Tulley said.

The BEST program began with a gift of $2.5 million from Gordon A. Cain in 2001. That gift was part of a larger donation of $7.5 million to improve science education in Louisiana.

In addition to the summer high school program, the Cain gift established and provided initial funding for a postdoctoral research program, a graduate student program, an undergraduate program and a biotechnology lecture and laboratory course.

Tulley said the six-week high school BEST program includes two introductory weeks of classroom and laboratory instruction followed by four weeks in individual laboratories working under the direction of LSU AgCenter researchers.

He said the teachers and their students initially learn basic laboratory techniques, including culturing cells, transferring genes, transferring antibody resistance to bacteria and separating proteins with antibodies.

"From the beginning, they see results of change and measure results," Tulley said.

Mary Macklin, who brought her student Priscilla LaCoste from Berwick High School in Berwick, said she came to learn about applied biotechnology.

"This will help us better understand what biotechnology is, how it’s applicable and how it affects students in the classroom," Macklin said.

"There’s a difference between learning and understanding," she continued. "This will help me be better able to teach it with true understanding and relevance."

Shannon Berryhill, a student at St. Joseph’s Academy in Baton Rouge, said she was very interested when she first heard about the program but was hesitant about the time commitment.

"I’ve greatly enjoyed the experience so far," Berryhill said. "It’s been extremely enlightening how technology has influenced our society and how biotechnology is applied."

Berryhill, who will be a senior this fall, said, "I’ve been passionate about becoming a doctor and a missionary. I’m even more passionate about medicine now.

"I’m going to take this with me and use it for the rest of my life," she added.

Berryhill and her teacher, Linda Messina, will be working with Dr. Konstantin Kousoulas of the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Veterinary Science. Their project will be constructing and testing a new herpes simplex virus that can selectively destroy breast cancer cells in cell culture.

"We are so excited," Messina said of the research opportunity.

"I will be such a better teacher and more effective," she said. "We’re all learning from each other – teachers and students."

In addition to the student-teacher pair working with Kousoulas, other BEST pairs will be working with the following LSU AgCenter researchers:

–Dr. Jim Oard in the Department of Agronomy and Environmental Management, who’s working with genetic markers of herbicide resistance in rice.

–Dr. Roy Martin of the School of Human Ecology, who’s researching short-chain fatty acids and food intake in his laboratory at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

–Dr. Claudia Husseneder of the Department of Entomology, who’s working with bacteria that could help eliminate termites.

–Dr. Prasanta Subudhi of the Department of Agronomy and Environmental Management, who’s working with genetic markers in marsh grass.

–Dr. Marina Sansinena at the Embryo Biotechnology Laboratory, who’s working with cattle genes associated with disease and parasite resistance.

Joseph Wood, a science teacher at Ouachita Christian School in Monroe, said he was pleased to learn that the work he and his student are doing is "applicable to actual, everyday concerns."

Wood and student David Hinds are working in the entomology laboratory of LSU AgCenter researcher Dr. Claudia Husseneder.

"It’s not research for research’s sake but research to solve problems – to kill termites in an ecologically friendly manner," he said.

Hinds said he expected less hands-on activity, and he’s excited about actually working in a laboratory.

"It’s real research, not just experiments," Hinds said.

"The knowledge I gain about procedures, theories and historical background are things I can incorporate into my teaching," Wood said.

"It’s a great experience," Husseneder said of hosting the BEST participants. "They’re so enthusiastic about learning, and that makes us enthusiastic to teach."

Crystal Williams, a teacher at Broadmoor High School in Baton Rouge, said she wants "to learn more and have more to offer to students."

Williams said when she asked student Huong Pham to participate, she knew Pham was seriously interested when the student said she was willing to pay for the opportunity.

In fact, quite the opposite case is true. Both the students and teachers receive a stipend for the summer – $6,000 for each teacher and $3,000 for each student – along with room and board for the session. In addition, each laboratory that hosts a BEST pair receives funds for supplies and equipment.

Pham said she expected the program to be interesting and that the students would do most of the work. "It’s hands on," she said.

"I’ve wanted to be a doctor ever since I was a kid," Pham added.

Williams said teachers shouldn’t let a lack of equipment keep them from teaching biotechnology-related laboratory work in the classroom. Some equipment is already available and other equipment can be borrowed from LSU, she said.

"The basics are not expensive," added Patricia Colbert-Cormier, a high school science teacher from Lafayette.

Colbert-Cormier said she and her student, Ashley Venters, are excited about the opportunity to work in the LSU AgCenter’s Embryo Biotechnology Laboratory in St. Gabriel.

After the first two weeks, Colbert-Cormier said the program was "more than I expected.

"We have some of this equipment in the classroom," she added. "Ashley now makes the connection."

Venters agreed.

"Most things connect to each other," Venters said. "It’s easy to understand."

Venters said she previously had a career interest in forensic science, but now she’s interested in research or biotechnology.

"I’ve enjoyed this so much," she said. "I can take this back to school and start a biotechnology club where students can teach others."

Tulley said high school science teachers are encouraged to apply next winter or spring for next summer’s program.

He said the application process includes a letter of interest, a statement of how the teacher will use the program in school, letters of recommendation, the teacher’s college transcripts and details on teaching experience.

"The quality of the participants is really good," Tulley said.

For more information on applying for the program, contact Tulley at or (225) 578-2281. For additional information on the variety of programs offered by the LSU AgCenter, visit


Contact: Richard Tulley at (225) 578-2281 or
Writer: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or

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