Externship Report: Taylor Britton

The Externship Program is a research exchange program that allows New Mexico graduate students (with an existing assistantship) to spend a semester or summer doing research at a partnering New Mexico university or research facility. This report is from University of New Mexico student Taylor Britton about his externship experience at the New Mexico Consortium in Los Alamos.

I was awarded a New Mexico EPSCoR externship for the summer of 2017. The externship allowed me to travel to the New Mexico Consortium, which gave me the opportunity to work with world-class scientists such as Dr. Sangeeta Negi. Throughout the summer, I worked with Dr. Negi on understanding the role of the gene, sucrose non-fermenting kinase (SNRK) in increasing biomass yield in the green algae Chlorella Sorikiniana. My work during this time focused on characterizing algal lines with introduced SNRK genes. SNRK’s role in algae has yet to be elucidated; however, it has been shown in plants to be an important player in stress responses. This gene has also been shown to have a role in starch accumulation in plants, which could potentially increase biomass.

My graduate research focuses on increasing photosynthetic efficiency and biomass yield in algal production strains such as Chlorella Sorokiniana. Increasing efficiency and biomass yield in Chlorella is an important part in making biofuels completive in today’s market. Working with Dr. Negi I was able to improve my molecular biology techniques, but I also learned several new techniques including RNA extraction and QPCR. With this newly acquired knowledge of these techniques I will be able to apply it to my future research. As a result of my work we were able to successfully generate Chlorella strains with a non-native SNRK gene that was confirmed with QPCR and gene sequencing. Additionally, my fellow scientists at the New Mexico Consortium played a pivotal role in my acquiring of these skills. There were incredibly helpful as they assisted me in these techniques and allowed me to assist them.

The NM EPSCoR externship program allowed me to preform collaborative research and increase my technical skills in molecular biology. One of the best things to come from this externship was the ability to network with scientists at the New Mexico Consortium and learn from their experience. Furthermore, the externship has also opened up the door for me to continue to work at the New Mexico Consortium and to continue to work on this project.