Editors Note: In observance of Black History Month, this feature profiles an Iowa State University graduate-student researcher who is inspired by George Washington Carver, the universitys first African-American student and faculty member. Photos of Jacquelyn Jackson are available by contacting Ed Adcock, (515) 294-2314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
ISU PLANT PATHOLOGY GRAD STUDENT STUDIES VIRUSES,
FOLLOWS IN GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVERS FOOTSTEPS
AMES, Iowa -- An Iowa State University students crop research may help other scientists get closer to discovering a cures for human and animal viral diseases.
Jacquelyn Jackson in the lab.
Jacquelyn Jackson is working on her doctorate in Iowa States plant pathology program studying virus replication. She is one of the few black doctorate candidates working in agricultural molecular biology in the United States, but one of several who have studied in the Iowa State laboratory.
Jackson is studying a virus that has plagued farmers for years, the barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV). Not only does her research help farmers, it also can helps other scientists understand viruses that are genetically similar to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a human viral respiratory illness, or Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome Virus (PRRSV), a viral threat to pigs and economic threat to swine producers in Iowa and around the world.
Her research is another brick in the wall of knowledge and it all adds up, said Allen Miller, professor in plant pathology and Jacksons academic mentor. In terms of agriculture, this research is most economically important in wheat and oats production throughout the world.
There are different strains of viruses and no one knows why, Miller added. The structure of the virus Jacquelyn is working on resembles that of SARS and PRRSV. Each virus expresses its genetic characteristics about the same way, said Miller.
Originally from Alabama, Jackson began her doctoral work at Iowa State more than five years ago. With a family farming background, she knew that agriculture was her passion and research was her destiny. Ive always been drawn to research, she said.
Because studies of plant viruses contributes to knowledge of viruses, Jackson applied for the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award, a competitive grant from the National Institutes of Health. She was awarded the grant.
I was stunned! Jackson said. I thought, I have a real grant.
Jackson explained that plant viruses, like BYDV, usually have smaller genomes than animal viruses, making them easier to study. In her research she introduces mutations at specific sites within the viral genome to see how it affects virus replication.
Im looking at what the mutant virus does when it is introduced into plant cells, to see how those mutants compare to the wild-type virus, said Jackson.
Her lab research is nearly complete. Jackson will use the rest of her grant term to complete a paper about her research.
She is scheduled to graduate with her doctorate in genetics in December. She hopes to return to Alabama to teach at Tuskegee University, where she earned her masters degree in plant and soil sciences and agronomy and soils.
Jacksons crop genetic research comes 115 years after George Washington Carver began his career at Iowa State. The similarities between her academic career and Carvers inspires her to continue her graduate work.
Carver was the first black to enroll at Iowa State in 1891. Jackson said she admires him because he challenged the status quo. He didnt focus on his race. He probably focused on it even less than I do, she said. Reading about him and his work encourages me to do what Im doing.
Her adviser said black doctorate candidates in the field of agricultural molecular biology are rare but Jackson is a great example. Shes grown in her understanding of the subjects and is an independent scientist, said Miller. Shes an excellent student.
Another link to Carver is her research at Tuskegee University. She used peanuts, the food for which Carver discovered more than 300 uses, and sweet potatoes in her research on foods with added health benefits.
Jacksons family also has been a big influence in her scientific career. My grandfather knew George Washington Carver. He was a farmer, so when Carver worked at Tuskegee University, he would visit farmers, she said. My father used to see Carver in the halls of his school building.
Working in her grandmothers garden inspired her to choose agriculture. I wanted to learn about Gods creation, said Jackson who has been a youth minister since she was 15. Jackson learned that Carvers faith was an important part of his personal life. It helps me understand that I can be religious and be a successful scientist.
And she is gaining success as a scientist. As a doctoral candidate, Jackson has already been awarded a string of honors including the Iowa State University George Washington Carver Doctoral Fellowship; NASA scholarships and internships, working on sweet potato research for astronaut use; as well as her competitive grant from the National Institutes of Health.