Intern's Corn Genome Study is also about Heritage

Thurman (TJ) Redhouse, Jr. is shown in the lab where he
conducted research about the maize genome this summer.

In our everyday lives, we use corn in multiple ways- whether it’s on the table, at the pump or in a variety of consumer products. The versatility of corn all begins with the understanding of its genome.

Thurman (TJ) Redhouse, Jr., a senior at New Mexico State University, has spent eight weeks this summer at Iowa State University doing research about the maize genome as a part of the George Washington Carver Internship Program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

The horticulture major conducted research with Carolyn Lawrence, adjunct professor in genetics, development and cell biology, and Candice Gardner, adjunct professor in agronomy. Both work for the United States Department of Agriculture- Agricultural Research Service. Lawrence is the coordinator of the Maize Genetics and Genomics Database and Gardner is the research leader for the North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station.

Redhouse, along with two other Carver interns- Larry Morris Jr. of the University of New Mexico and Danielle Charley of Diné College in Arizona, worked to identify genetic sequences of the inbred line called Missouri 17, in order to know which seed stocks to recommend to researchers for use in their corn studies.

“We’re doing experiments to confirm which exact lineage of Mo17 was sequenced,” Redhouse said. “Mo17 was one of the most utilized inbreds for development of hybrids grown in farmers’ fields.”

Redhouse started his internship by germinating seeds, collecting tissue samples and extracting DNA. The next step was to create polymerase chain reactions to copy specific pieces of DNA in key locations in the genome to determine which of two commonly used seed stocks should be used for future genome-based studies.

“It’s interesting because we’re using phenotypic, genotypic and karyotypic information to make the determination,” said Redhouse. “I’d never done this kind of work before so it’s great getting the experience. Also, I can take back this information and tell people at home because of the history of farming in my culture.”

Redhouse is a member of the Navajo tribe in Aneth, Utah. His internship is a part of the Plant Genetics and Genomics Outreach to Native Americans Project. This program is to help increase representation of Native Americans in plant genomics research. As a part of this partnership, the interns bring an elder from their family or tribe to tour Iowa State so they can learn about what the students are doing.

“As a part of the tour with our elders, we did a Navajo ceremony in the cornfield at the North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station. A Navajo medicine man performed the ceremony,” Redhouse said.

“It is very important to train the next generation of scientists to continue the research and development efforts that will take productivity or utilization to the next level,” Gardner said. “Who better to involve than Native Americans in science devoted to one of their staple crops?”

After graduation, Redhouse would like to go into a research field or become an herbalist. “I got interested in horticulture because I was fascinated by medicinal plants. It’s interesting what some plants can do and I’d like to try to find the science behind their use.”

Lawrence said, “Working with budding scientists is very rewarding. TJ is curious and interested in plant sciences, both to fulfill his curiosity and to understand the scientific properties behind the plants already known to be useful to his people.”

“I had a great summer and enjoyed meeting everyone and seeing Iowa State,” said Redhouse, who hopes to come to ISU for graduate school.

The George Washington Carver Internship Program is for undergraduate and high school students who will enhance diversity at Iowa State University and are interested in research in agriculture-related fields. Interns conduct research and participate in various events and seminars. Over the past 16 years, there have been more than 300 students to visit Iowa State as a part of the program, which is funded by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and other sources. Approximately 20% of these students have enrolled at ISU for undergraduate or graduate studies. For more information, visit: http://www.ag.iastate.edu/diversity/gwc.