A quick shove into scientific research paid dividends over the summer for science students at The College of Idaho.
Four students worked together to earn second place at a state-wide IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) Conference in Moscow after completing an intensive, 3.5-week research project with Wendy Harvey of the biology department.
Senior Alex Leblanc, juniors Maura Sweeney and Daniella Manirakiza, and sophomore Colton Troxel presented their research findings on a gene-editing technology known as CRISPR/Cas9 in July.
“It’s such a short timeframe that you get dumped into the deep end of the pool and, so far, the students that have done the program have swum,” said Harvey, herself a 2003 graduate of the College. “They’re doing really, really well.”
The summer program, called The College of Idaho Scholars Program, just completed its second year. It’s one of multiple undergraduate research opportunities available during the year in scientific fields at the College, whether under the INBRE umbrella or the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, that is intentionally short.
“It gives you a taste of research. It’s not the full summer program,” Harvey explained. “Students can see if this is for them. It gives them a research opportunity and it gives them experience.”
Students apply for the program in January. Applications are reviewed before selections are made. Reviews include recommendations from faculty as well as experience – this program is meant to introduce students to research.
“It is a great launching pad if you’re interested in research,” Harvey said. “The 10-week program, which we’ve had for years and years either through Murdock or INBRE, that’s more of a time investment and a larger process.”
Harvey is able to identify students during the review process who are more qualified for other research opportunities and guide them in that direction, which ultimately opens the door for more students to gain experience in scientific research as undergraduate students at the College.
The research done by Leblanc, Sweeney, Manirakiza, and Troxel centered around new gene-editing technology. CRISPR/Cas9 edits genes by precisely cutting DNA and then letting natural DNA repair processes take over. The hope is that, eventually, gene-editing technologies may be able to combat or prevent inherited genetic disorders, such as sickle-cell disease or cystic fibrosis.
“The first year, we did gene editing in bacteria and it was more of a proof of concept,” Harvey said. “This year, we ratcheted it up a little bit where we tried to knock out a gene within a cell culture line within human lung fibroblasts.”
The initial proof of concept with bacteria was successful. This past summer’s project, working with cell cultures within human lungs, didn’t turn out as anticipated but that’s part of what made the project a success in a different context.
“Sometimes you have this great idea and it doesn’t work the first time,” she said. “And that’s okay. You’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Why didn’t it work? Is it my data or is it the methodology?’ Then you go about changing it. That’s part of science.”
For more information about The College of Idaho Scholars Program, contact Wendy Harvey.
The project described was supported by an Institutional Development Award (IDeA) from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Grant #P20GM103408.
The College of Idaho has a 132-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition, and history of producing successful graduates, including eight Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.