News

July 18, 2007

Lauren Seyer ’08 Searches for Cause of Potato Blight

Biology major works under guidance of Manuel D. Ospina-Giraldo, assistant professor of biology

The Great Irish Potato Famine caused the loss of countless lives and the immigration of thousands of Irish settlers to the United States in the mid-1800’s. While new advances in technology have led to some safeguards in keeping food supplies prevalent throughout the world, some problems can still arise.

Biology major Lauren Seyer ’08 (Wayne, N.J.) is currently working on an EXCEL project, under the guidance of Manuel D. Ospina-Giraldo, assistant professor of biology, to better understand the ways in which an organism has been affecting current potato crops across the world.

“Phytophthora infestans is the cause of late blight of potatoes, a serious disease that causes millions of dollars in worldwide losses,” Seyer says. “P. infestans is a fungal-like organism that has been recently reclassified as an oomycete [or water mold]. Surprisingly, very little is known about the mechanisms that this organism uses to invade and colonize the potato plant so successfully.”

Seyer has been studying the organism through several experiments on campus.

“As part of this project, I am responsible for performing all of the experiments required in the analysis of the cutinase genes in P. infestans,” she says. “Thus far, I have learned about and performed DNA extractions, the design of primers, and PCR amplification. In the future, I will have the opportunity to also clone genes and to learn about sequencing techniques.”

Seyer says that while many people may not be aware of the problem or its underlying cause, the field of genetics is enough to have anyone take notice of the project.

“Genetics itself is a fascinating field. The relationship between genes is very complicated, and the interaction between the genes of one organism and those of a different one add another dimension entirely,” she says. “The intellectual challenge in attempting to unravel all of these interactions in a constantly changing field is what makes Genetics so exciting.”

Ospinia-Giraldo heralded Seyer’s work within the EXCEL program.

“I am very glad of having a tremendously committed and responsible student working in my lab,” he says. “I have total confidence that she will accomplish her research goals.”

Seyer’s ultimate goal of the project is to analyze the genes, especially those encoding cutinases, that play a role in breaching the plant cell wall and other plant defenses.

Following graduation, Seyer plans to attend graduate school to obtain a M.S. degree in genetic counseling, which is a two-year full time program. Afterwards, she hopes to work as a counselor in a clinical setting.

Seyer is a student assistant at Kirby Sports Center, a biology tutor, and a member of the International Student Association.

In Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

posted in Academic News, Collaborative, High-Impact Learning, Committed Teachers and Scholars, Involved, Focused, and Active Students, News and Features, Student Profiles, Students

tagged with , ,