Carver intern studies soybean disease

Audrianna Marzette working at her lab in Bessey Hall as
a part of the Carver Internship Program.

When she was growing up, Audrianna Marzette helped to grow fruit and vegetables in her grandmother’s garden in Selma, Alabama. She never thought that one day she’d be researching plants in a lab.

This summer the sophomore in agriculture economics at Fort Valley State University in Georgia has been getting a glimpse of life as an Iowa State University student through the George Washington Carver Internship Program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Marzette, who was named the Freshman of the Year at Fort Valley State, is involved with research that focuses on Phytophthora root and stem rot, a widespread disease that attacks soybeans. She is working with mentor Alison Robertson, assistant professor in plant pathology, and ISU graduate student Silivina Stewart.

“Phytophthora root rot occurs when field conditions are very wet. The disease can occur throughout the growing season and affects young seedlings through fully grown plants. Leaves of infected plants turn yellow, the plant wilts and eventually dies,” Marzette said.

They hope to develop new test methods to screen for partial resistance in the plants. Marzette grows the fungus, inoculates it into plants at the greenhouse and in the lab and then waits for the outcome. With the standard method, it takes up to four weeks to determine partial resistance, whereas with these new methods, it could be possible to see results in as little as two weeks.

“One method we’re testing right now is to see if we can grow the fungus in rice, instead of in petri dishes. This would be more time efficient and cheaper if it works,” she said.

“If successful, the benefit of this research will be that a simple but effective and consistent method of evaluating partial resistance will be established,” said Marzette. “This could help farmers with their soybean yields, which would make more food available.”

Marzette is excited about her internship at ISU. “Everything I have done has been fun for me, because I am new to this subject. It’s very demanding of my time and patience, but being diverse makes you a better person,” she said.

While here, the Carver interns not only conduct research, but also participate in a wide variety of cultural activities. So far, Marzette’s favorite weekend adventure was a camping trip to a turtle camp in Illinois, where the students were able to study turtles and enjoy the camping experience.

“I’d never camped before, so it was a very new experience. We arrived there after 9 p.m. and we had to put up our tents in the dark, with just the headlights and peoples’ cell phones,” Marzette recalls with a laugh.

“On campus, my favorite event was when I went to the Black Cultural Center. It was a great time to relax and there were talks about the history of Iowa, staying driven and being diverse,” she said.

Marzette said she would suggest the program to anybody with an agriculture or life sciences major, especially because of the opportunity to work in a lab.

“The most important thing is that my mentors have been accessible. They help me to learn the process and are very patient. I appreciate that,” said Marzette. “Also, they take me along to conferences, instead of leaving me to do research alone, and I’m very grateful to have that experience.”

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. The program, funded by the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and other sources, has been successful in bringing in more than 300 students to Iowa State over the past 16 years. For more information, visit: