Biotechnology Students Impress at Northeast Regional American Society of Plant Biologists Annual Conference

On April 11, 2015, four seniors in the Biotechnology program at SUNY Cobleskill presented striking research on Soybean Genetic Engineering at the Northeast Regional American Society of Plant Biologists Annual Conference at Northeast University in Boston, Massachusetts. Under the guidance of Dr. Lynda McMaster – Schuyler, Professor of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Dr. Peiyu Zeng, Associate Professor of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, students Timothy Demarsh, Thien Luu, Emily Norton and Amanda Rhodes, wowed attendees with their advancement in creating three cultivars to make soybean nematode resistant, drought-tolerant and stress-tolerant.

Difficult to accomplish, soybean transformation distinguishes itself in the plant research community. Current soy cultivation practices face numerous challenges that detrimentally impact crop yield, quality, nutritional value, and economic return for farmers. The students are developing new lines of soy through the process of genetic engineering, in which molecules of DNA containing genes that will provide the desired attributes are inserted into the cells of plants, changing their characteristics. The resulting new cultivars of soy will provide farmers with a wider range of options and the potential for improved production of this agriculturally important crop.

Demarsh, Luu, Norton and Rhodes received high praise at the event, as researchers from other academic institutions such as SUNY Plattsburg, UAlbany, Northeastern University, UConn, UMass, WPI, Yale and Harvard admired the high-level and exceptional quality of their work. Currently, only a handful of colleges and universities are able to transform soybeans successfully.

“SUNY Cobleskill students benefit from designing their own experiments while learning to substantiate their results and appreciate others’ research. They gain valuable experience while working independently and collaboratively in a supportive environment, supervised by our faculty and encouraged by our administration. Students who engage in undergraduate research are more likely to develop the attributes needed by the workforce of the 21st century and SUNY Cobleskill prides itself on preparation for the future,” said Dr. McMaster – Schuyler.

Dr. Zeng remarks, ““Our students have unique opportunities to acquire research experience here at SUNY Cobleskill, particularly in the area of the genetic engineering of soy; currently, Cobleskill is one of only a handful of academic institutions that have the distinction of being able to transform soybeans successfully. The quality and maturity of our students’ research accomplishments receive overwhelming praise and recognition at the SUNY, regional, and national levels. The advances they make here will prepare our students well by instilling the skills necessary for future academic and career success.”