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ChemGen IGERT graduate students train a diverse cohort of undergraduates


The NSF-ChemGen Integrative Graduate Education and Research Trainee (IGERT) Program at University of California, Riverside places a priority on mentoring undergraduates in research. Each year, ChemGen IGERT fellows supervise undergraduate researchers from UC Riverside or other institutions in our Plant Cell Biology NSF-Research Experiences for undergraduates program. This site program began in 2002 and has been successfully renewed twice. A total of 82 undergraduates have been mentored in this summer internship program. Experiences have been provided to 30 under-represented minorities and 48 women. To date, 22 of the participants have entered graduate school and 9 have gone into a professional school. The ChemGen IGERT graduate students have mentored 13 REU participants in projects involving chemical biology. Two of these students are co-authors on publications involving chemical genomics.

In addition to mentoring undergraduates in formal REU programs, the ChemGen IGERT fellows have supervised over 20 UC Riverside undergraduates in research. Because UCR is a minority serving institution, about half of the students mentored are from underrepresented groups. These opportunities range from students participating in research for course credit with individual faculty participants to structured initiatives that engage multiple undergraduates in a single research project.

For example, Professor Katherine Borkovich initiated a pilot program last summer with four undergraduates. They included one CEPCEB REU student (UC Berkeley), one community college student (underrepresented minority; Bridge to Research Program) and two UC Riverside undergraduate students (both underrepresented minorities; Pre-MARCU). The students were mentored by senior research associate Gyungsoon Park and by IGERT Fellow James Kim.

The project focused on the analysis of serine-threonine and histidine protein kinases in the model filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa. Using a collection of N. crassa mutants produced in a collaboration involving the Borkovich lab, the students were able to probe the cellular relevance of over 100 kinases, by comparison of the effect of a chemical inhibitor (drug) on mutant and non-mutant fungal strains. This experimental approach probed the biological function of these important signaling proteins, since approximately half of the kinase mutants have no apparent defects during growth, thus giving no clues as to the functions of the missing genes. To obtain functional information about the kinases, the students screened the mutants for sensitivity to a panel of chemicals. Screening was performed at a concentration of each chemical that was sub-lethal for wild type. This strategy revealed chemical sensitivity phenotypes for all but one of the kinase mutants.

The students observed evidence of functional redundancy with some of the kinases and this information will be used to construct strains with multiple mutations. Importantly, the project taught the principles of chemical genomics and compound screening to the undergraduate researchers. Fitz-Gerald Diala, an underrepresented minority, has continued working on the project doing research for course credit as an honors student. He is repeating the analysis of the histidine kinase mutants and this chemical screening data will be included in a publication.

Knoth C, Ringler J, Dangl J, Eulgem T (2007) Arabidopsis WRKY70 is required for full RPP4-mediated disease resistance and basal defense against Hyaloperonospora parasitica. Molecular Plant Microbe Interactions 20(2):120-128. (John Ringler was an NSF-REU participant).

Surpin M, Rojas-Pierce M, Carter C, Hicks GR, Vasquez J, Raikhel NV. (2005) The power of chemical genomics to study the link between endomembrane system components and the gravitropic response. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 102(13):4902-7. (Jacob Vasquez was an NSF-REU participant).

Address Goals

The highlight illustrates how the ChemGen IGERT program funding of PhD students is benefiting the education and experience of undergraduates.