Yang (Lindsay) Fei
Year: 2015
Faculty Advisor: Georg Jander

Identification and characterization of cardiac glycoside-related genes in milkweed

Project Summary

Cardiac glycosides have been used for human medicinal purposes, historically combatting against many cardiac illnesses. However, if one overdoses on cardiac glycoside, the excess content in the body can very easily lead to other diseases and potential death. This project will help us reduce these risks by determining the genes that affect the production of cardiac glycosides and their biosynthetic pathways. We are focusing on cardiac glycoside production in different subspecies of milkweed, specifically Asclepias incarnata pulchra and Asclepias incarnata incarnata because of their difference in cardiac glycoside levels, and on making milkweed a genetic and genomic model plant system. Now, the primary focus is determining which genes are crucial in cardiac glycoside production. Recent transcriptomics have identified candidate genes for testing. To determine their supposed roles in cardiac glycoside biosynthesis in milkweed, these genes of interest will be targets for silencing usingAgrobacterium-mediated transformation harboring RNAi constructs containing our gene(s) of interest. After (hopefully) altering the expression of candidate genes, we expect to find changes in cardiac glycosides levels, thereby identifying genes that are present in the biosynthetic pathway. Through this research, we can eventually map out the pathway and produce safer and more effective pharmaceuticals.

My Experience

Before the PGRP summer internship, I had no experience in a laboratory setting besides my science classes. This program gave me valuable exposure to the scientific environment and allowed me to learn about plant science from great researchers. The opportunity to work in a lab and do work that could have real-world applications is extremely valuable. I have gained a deeper respect for the research process and the work that goes behind a publication. The amount of troubleshooting and all the different ways to approach a problem can be frustrating, but I feel that I have gained the most from this internship through these experiences. They forced me to go back and reevaluate what I’ve done and think about what I should’ve done differently, leaving me with a better understanding of the scientific process. This research experience has been very rewarding and will definitely influence my future career decisions. I am very grateful for Felix Fernandez-Penny, my mentor, Georg Jander, Nicole Waters Fisher, and Tiffany Fleming for giving me this opportunity and making it as enjoyable and educational as possible.