Amarillo College students conduct ‘groundbreaking’ gene research

Local News

AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — A team of STEM students at Amarillo College conducted “groundbreaking” gene expression research, according to a press release by Amarillo College.

According to the release, the AC team have pinpointed gene activation during photosynthesis which assists in discovering why an increase in atmospheric CO2 leads to increased crop production.

The research has been accepted for competitive presentation at the Undergraduate Research Poster Competition as part of the Crop Sciences Society of America Annual International meeting on Nov. 6 to 10 in Salt Lake City, Utah, the release said.

“This is definitely groundbreaking,” Dr. Jacob Price, assistant professor of biological sciences at AC, said. “The gene we explored, nobody ever knew what it did or what affects the expression of this gene. Our students effectively found out how to make a plant use light to the best of its ability to potentially create higher yields.”

Seven students in AC’s STEM research internship last spring semester discovered that “The switching off of photosynthesis photoprotection, it is called is a defense mechanism plants naturally employ under stress, and plant yields are nil without photosynthesis.”

“Many studies have demonstrated that plants grow better and have a greater yield when exposed to high concentrations of CO2,” Price said, “and students in our STEM research internship have possibly discovered what controls a gene capable of dismantling a plants protections through the addition of CO2 using cutting edge biotechnology and gene-expression analysis. We are now capable of turning this gene off, so the plant will not turn off photosynthesis.”

Price added, “That they found the gene responsible for turning off photosynthesis is very cool, and so is their inclusion in the highly regarded Undergraduate Research Poster Competition. It’s and amazing opportunity for our students to meet and compete with graduate students from major universities at the highest level.”

AC’s STEM research internship was funded by grant from the U.S. Department of Education with Dr. Price and Clarissa Chairez, director of AC’s STEM Research Center being the faculty facilitators, according to the release.

In addition, the release listed the students involved in the research who will represent AC in Salt Lake City which included:

  • Autumn Carroll
  • Sarinity Frazier
  • Taylor Gresham

Graduate and transferred students from AC on the project include:

  • Luis Ordaz
  • Kristen Tatro
  • Kris Tyler
  • Kenia Villagran

“This research was so interesting, and being from a small College like AC and getting to go to Salt Lake City and compete with scholars from big universities is totally unexpected and really kind of surreal,” Autumn Carroll said.

Carroll continued, "Id never have imagined such a big result from our research its amazing. "Im pretty sure I learned a lot more from the hands-on nature of our research than I would have by sitting in a class and just talking about photosynthesis.”

“It is unheard of for this scale of research to be conducted at the undergraduate level, much less at a community college,” said Crystal Moss of WTAMU. “I feel very fortunate to have been included in this. ACs lab is every bit as good as any I’ve seen, maybe better, This is Tier I-level biotechnology research for sure.”

At the Undergraduate Research Poster Competition, Carroll, Frazier and Gresham will present “Examining Plant Photoprotection through Gene Expression,” in which they explored methods of “extracting RNA, quantified the expression of this gene through real-time PCR, and learned about experimental design, data analysis and how to present research,” the release stated. The trip to Utah is funded by a grant from the AC Foundation.

Project facilitators, Gaus-Bowling, Moss and Price will present “Bridging the Equity Gap through Undergraduate Research in Plant Science at Amarillo College,” at the competition.

If anyone is interested in the study of biotechnology or the STEM field, options are available for fall classes at Amarillo College. For more information, call AskAC at (806) 371-5000 or visit

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