Julian Garcia used to be intimidated by college-level science. But now the 23-year-old community college student is embracing his lab research at Cal Poly, extracting DNA from plants to study their mutations.
Garcia is one of 14 students from Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria participating in a paid research internship at Cal Poly this summer.
The Bridges to the Baccalaureate program for minorities and students with disabilities is being funded by an $848,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health.
The grant, expected to last five years, is now in its third summer at Cal Poly.
“The ultimate goal is to demystify research, see how cool it can be, and encourage underrepresented students to go on to careers in science,” said Emily Taylor, a Cal Poly biology professor and program coordinator.
Garcia’s study focuses on analyzing the DNA characteristics that govern such things as leaf size, petal growth and stem textures.
Fellow student Oscar Tinoco is conducting similar work on mutation identification in the lab.
They’ve had access to high-tech equipment that isolates DNA samples from plant cells and then analyzes genes. The students are sitting in on the summer school classes of biology professor Ed Himelblau. Garcia and Tinoco want to become doctors.
“I definitely didn’t have much experience with college science, but I know I can handle it now,” Garcia said.
Himelblau said the basics of DNA analysis are common to plant biology and medicine.
“This work is very helpful for future doctors wanting to understand how genetic tests work,” Himelblau said.
Other research conducted by the program’s students includes an examination of the effects of alcohol on the muscle development of rats and a study on a theory that exercise increases appetite-boosting hormones and food consumption in women but not men.
Student Hanne Inez Wolff, 22, said she and her advisor, kinesiology professor Todd Hagobian, have monitored men and women exercising, measuring appetite hormones such as insulin and leptin for up to an hour after exercise.
Their study involves drawing and testing blood.
“We ask them questions about how hungry they are after exercise and what kinds of foods they’re choosing,” Wolff said.
Hagobian, a kinesiology professor, said the students can eat as much or as little as they want from a buffet, and coordinators count calories.
“We think that women will have a more robust hormonal response and have a higher food intake at the buffet meal,” he said.
Hagobian and Wolff will present their findings at a sports medicine conference in Reno, Nev., in October. They’re also working on publishing an article in a scientific journal.
Taylor said program coordinators are hoping more Hancock students will participate next year. For more information, go to www.hancockcollege.edu.