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CALS experience expands horizons for aspiring medical researcher

As he pursues his dream of helping stop the AIDS epidemic that killed one of his young cousins, New Orleans native Odell Isaac intends to see as much of the world as he can. Twice, his journey has landed him at N.C. State University, where he’s had the chance to meet with some of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ leading scientists and to spend 10 weeks conducting complicated genetic research with one of them.

A senior at Xavier University, Isaac made his first trip to Raleigh in November 2009 as part of a new project called CHAMPS, or Cultivating High-Achieving, Motivated Professionals and Scholars. He came back in summer 2010 to conduct research in Dr. Linda Hanley-Bowdoin’s lab in the departments of Genetics and of Molecular and Structural Biochemistry. He came as part of the Synthetic Biology Undergraduate Research Experience run by N.C. State’s Biotechnology Program and the Department of Plant Biology under the direction of Dr. Sue Carson.

The National Science Foundation-funded research experience exposes selected students to ways of using biotechnology to turn plants into factories that generate useful products, such as pharmaceuticals, and to develop synthetic model systems for studying fundamental biological mechanisms.

While Isaac hasn’t yet decided where to pursue his graduate education – he hopes to get a Ph.D. in immunology or virology and an M.D. in infectious diseases – he said CHAMPS and the synthetic biology program “opened me up to new horizons. It was a chance to get away from home and to open myself up to new experiences.”

– Dee Shore

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