North Carolina Biotechnology Center Release: Undergrads Research Infants, Insects and an Island

Published: Sep 07, 2011

Sept. 7, 2011 – The North Carolina Biotechnology Center awarded $60,500 in competitive research grants to a dozen undergraduate projects on eight campuses.

The Undergraduate Research Fellowships match faculty mentors with science and engineering majors. Students across the state gain real-world research experience through these collaborative projects. For some awardees, these projects are first glimpses at biotechnology careers.

“These grants encourage talented students around the state to pursue biotechnology research projects that can inspire important career decisions,” said John Balchunas, director of workforce development at the Biotechnology Center.

“It’s vital that North Carolina, with the help of these kinds of Biotechnology Center programs, provide academically enriching experiences that connect undergraduates with futures in academia or industry.”

Awardees’ projects include a study of Echinacea to prevent premature birth, an analysis of potential insecticides, and an investigation of a possible contributor to dementia.

This year’s fellowship program includes a unique partnership with Cotton Incorporated to support an agricultural research project. That award, to a student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, includes $5,000 from Cotton Incorporated and $500 from the Biotech Center. All other awards are $5,000.

During the year of grant-funded research, each undergraduate student fellow devotes more than 400 hours to the project. All are required to present their work in seminars at their institutions and in papers or posters at scientific conferences. The students also attend at least one regional or state meeting on the business of biotechnology.

Award recipients include:

Appalachian State University

John Schwabe, mentored by Chishimba Nathan Mowa. Project title: Profiling Cervical Collagen Expression for Predicting Birth

Bao-Tran Nguyen, mentored by Chishimba Nathan Mowa. Project title: Preventing Premature Births the Natural Way: A Feasibility Study Using Echinacea

Colin Curtis, mentored by Jennifer Burris. Project title: Characterization of Collagen in Solution and in Tissue Using Raman Spectroscopy

Davidson College

Thomas Silvers, mentored by Shyam Unniraman. Project title: Duke-Davidson Immunology Partnership

North Carolina State University

Mary Patricia Bulfin, mentored by Christopher Ashwell. Project title: Identification of the Gene Responsible for the Chicken L Alloantigen by Whole Genome Association Mapping and Assessment of Potential Implications on Poultry Immunological Response

Victoria Crisci, mentored by Paul Hamilton. Project title: Identification of Cell-type Specific Peptide Ligands for Human Pancreatic B-cells

UNC Asheville

Douglas Brawley, mentored by Thomas Meigs. Project title: Structural Characterization of G{alpha}12 Interaction with the Non-receptor Activator Ric-8

UNC Charlotte

Jasmine King, mentored by Joanna Kreuger. Project title: Protein Stability Studies for Bio-therapeutic Applications

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Verrico Boyd, mentored by Parke Rublee. Project title: Real-time PCR Characterization of Microbial Communities on Mount Desert Island

Robert Amend, mentored by Vincent Henrich. Project title: Refinement of a Cell-based Assay for Screening Novel Insecticides

University of North Carolina at Pembroke

Rebecca Howell, mentored by Deborah Lundin. Project title: Assessing Lysosomal Modulators in Models of Frontotemporal Dementia

Western Carolina University

Catherine Denning, mentored by Michael Van Dyke. Project title: Structural Studies of the Stress-response Translation Regulator Stm1p

For more information about the Undergraduate Research Fellowship Award, visit

The Biotechnology Center is a private, non-profit corporation supported by the N.C. General Assembly. Its mission is to provide long-term economic and societal benefits to North Carolina by supporting biotechnology research, business, education and strategic policy statewide.

The Biotech Center has headquarters in Research Triangle Park with offices in Asheville, Charlotte, Greenville, Wilmington, and Winston-Salem.

Contact: Robin Deacle, vice president of corporate communications, North Carolina Biotechnology Center, at or 919-541-9366. Visit the Biotechnology Center's website at

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