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Turner does groundbreaking soybean research

ELC teacher is part of team at ISU

August 15, 2014
By Michael Tidemann - Staff Writer , Estherville News

So teachers have it real easy during the summer, right? Just lying around at the beach, reading the latest novel, putting on some sun screen, then finally going back to school in late August.

Actually, no.

For Estherville Lincoln Central High School teacher Kristen Turner, summer meant doing seven weeks of groundbreaking research on soybean sudden death syndrome at Iowa State University.

Article Photos

Left to right in the lab are Dr. Sekhar Kambakam, Kayla Brauer, Kristen Turner and Dr. Prashant Singh.
Photo submitted

Turner worked with fellow teacher Kayla Brauer of Johnston on the project titled, "Mapping of Arabidopsis Nonhost Resistance Gene Pss5 that Confers Immunity to Soybean Pathogens, Phutopthora sojae and Fusarium virgulifrome".

If that's too much of a mouthful, just remember soybean sudden death syndrome.

Their mentors were research scientists Preshant Singh and Sekhar Kambakam and the principal investigator was Dr. Madan Bhattacharyya. They were part of a group of teachers working on various projects this summer.

Turner said she and Brauer knew theirs was a good project for this area, since sudden death syndrome in soybeans is caused by a fungus in Iowa soils. In 2010 it destroyed 2.1 percent of the nation's soybean crop, doing $820 million in damage. The toll was $332 million in Iowa alone.

The two researchers took a simple plant and made it susceptible to the fungus and used molecular mapping to find the location of a particular gene. They located the gene this summer. They have now sent the DNA to be sequenced which will help further refine the exact gene and they're still waiting for results. The next step is to transfer that gene to soybeans to make them resistant to the fungus.

Their research was funded by a $5 million grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, a division of the United States Department of Agriculture.

Turner, who teaches a biotechnology class at ELC, said she had received an e-mail about research opportunities at ELC. So she jumped on it. And she's really excited about bringing what she learned back to her classroom this fall.

"I think kids really have a misconception about what scientists do," Turner said. She and Brauer were working on the second year of the five-year grant. It was Turner's first year doing this type of research.

"I'm really, really hoping I can go back again," she said. She hopes to work jointly with Graettinger-Terril teacher Marc Benedict on his research project, Engineering TAL Nucleases (TALENs) for Use in Soybeans, with both their classes.

At the end of the seven weeks, each teacher on July 25 gave a 10-minute talk on their research. Brauer and Turner had a poster with their presentation. Present were professors from other disciplines and the media.

Turner said her experience will "absolutely" change her approach in the classroom. "Analyzing your results is probably the hardest part of your research," Turner said.

One experiment she's done in class is a flame test in which items are burned and students look at different colors to determine what metals are present. Everyone knows bananas are healthy because they contain potassium, right? Well this year they'll burn banana chips so students can see if they have sodium too.

"Everything I'm trying to have them do I want it to relate to a real-world situation," said Turner.



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