Summer Scholar Amelia Griffith looks for ways to defend key global food source

Amelia Griffith is a biochemistry major from Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania.

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Q: What are you studying, where and with whom?

Griffith: I am doing research on rice in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources in the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, working with Professors Angelia Seyfferth and Nicole Donofrio. The project I am working on looks at two naturally occurring stresses on rice – arsenic uptake and rice blast fungus – and how they interact simultaneously.

Q: What is it about this topic that interests you?

Griffith: I have been interested in plant science research because I have always liked plants and it involves applied biochemistry. I think plants and crops are important in considering the sustainability of people and our planet. With the growing human population, it has become more and more important to develop better ways of feeding people and increasing crop yields. I think it is also important to be able to do this with minimal impact on the earth. This is something I would like to work on in the future.

Q: What is a typical day like?

Griffith: Since I have been working on this project for about a year, I have done many different things, depending on where I was in the project. This summer I have mainly been working on doing quantitative polymerase chain reactions (qPCR) to quantify and compare the expression of particular stress genes to see how the different treatments of arsenic, nutrients, and infection affect the health of the plants. On a typical day this summer, I do a qPCR reaction in the morning and after lunch I wash some dishes in the lab and do some data analysis of my qPCR results.

Q: What is the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do on the project?

Griffith: The coolest thing I’ve gotten to do on this project is probably confocal imaging. Last year I grew rice hydroponically and at different times I took leaf segments from each treatment and drop-inoculated the leaves with the rice blast fungus. The next day after the inoculation, I took the leaves to the Delaware Biotechnology Institute (DBI) to use the confocal microscope there. We were able to take extremely magnified pictures of the leaf segments and see the fungus infection in the cells. Even though it did not work as well as we wanted it to, it was still an interesting process and I got some cool pictures of the rice.

Q: What has surprised you most about your experience?

Griffith: I was most surprised with how much trial and error was involved in research. There are a lot of things that can go wrong and a lot of things don’t work out the way they are expected to. On this project, I have spent a lot of time troubleshooting, particularly with confocal imaging and qPCR. However, a lot of times with the help of others in the labs and with experience, I was able to get better results.

Q: Dreaming big, where do you hope this work could lead?

Griffith: I hope that this research will help me gain lab experience and help me get into graduate school. I am currently looking for master’s programs in plant breeding and genetics. I think I would like to continue research in plant science in the future, perhaps working in industry. I hope to someday help develop a way of making crops and food healthier and more readily available to people worldwide.

Q: If you had to summarize your experience in only one word, what would it be?

Griffith: Stimulating.

Q: What do you enjoy when you are not doing this kind of work?

Griffith: I enjoy Zumba, camping, hiking and spending time with my friends, family and beagle.

Article by Beth Miller
Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson
Video by Jason Hinmon
Published on UDaily on August 24, 2018