Learning the secrets of seed germination is helping Jing Sun grow her future career as a physician.
Jing Sun, an OSU junior in microbiology, has wanted to become a doctor ever since a childhood bout with hepatitis A put her in the hospital. “That made a big impression on me, mostly on how much I didn’t want to be in the hospital, but also on how grateful I was to the doctors who helped me get better,” she says.
Jing decided to use that experience as motivation to study medicine and become a pediatrician. In her first year at OSU, she wanted to learn to diagnose and solve problems, and she jumped at a chance to learn those skills in a research laboratory.
“It was the first lab I found that was looking for a freshman to do real research. Dr. Nonogaki was specifically looking for someone to take on their own projects, which was pretty unique and very exciting,” she says.
As she learned laboratory techniques, Jing found other undergrads were doing research in her area, the Integrative Seed Biology Program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation. Established by associate professor Hiro Nonogaki in the Department of Horticulture, the program offers undergraduates a chance to gain research skills while they discover how seed genes function.
Jing begins by identifying seeds that show a mutation in a gene known as a transcription factor. These genes operate somewhat like light switches, turning other genes on and off. After finding seeds with transcription factor mutations, Jing allows the seeds to sprout, observes the growing plants and documents the results. She then compares the plants to those grown from seeds with normal germination patterns. Her goal is to identify the molecular mechanisms at work and the consequences of the mutation.
Jing, who is in the University Honors College, has accomplished a lot. In 2005, she received a research grant through the Ernest and Pauline Jaworski Scholarship for Underserved Undergraduates in Plant Science. She also received an award for her presentation in OSU’s Howard Hughes Medical Institute summer research program.
In 2006, Jing was selected to study at the University of Freiburg in Germany through RISE (Research Internships for Science and Engineering), a German Academic Exchange Service program created to bring Canadian and American undergraduates to Germany to study with Ph.D. students.
Each year about 2,000 OSU undergraduates are involved in research projects around campus. “I think it is good for undergraduate students to do this research,” Nonogaki says, “and to present their findings at conferences. It is important for them to be exposed to real scientific research and to experts in the field.”