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"SEED" for tomorrow.

I enjoy science but I don't know why," admits high school senior Georgi Hall of Richmond. California. "Maybe it's because I feel powerful when I'm a scientist, like I'm doing something important for mankind. And I really felt like a scientist when I was working at ARS."

For 10 weeks last summer, Hall aided geneticist Judith Eash and others at the ARS Western Regional Research Center, Albany, California. They experimented with a new way to protect tomatoes and potatoes from the two crops' worst insect enemies.

For Hall, the Albany job meant having his own desk and access to a computer, plus the chance to design his own experiments and "to talk with scientists who took time to work with me." Hall's biology and chemistry teachers at Richmond's Kennedy High School recommended him for the slot. "Of the projects offered to me at Albany," Hall says. "I chose the insect work because it interested me the most."

Eash, team leader Anthony Waiss, and others intend to crossbreed tomatoes or potatoes with cape gooseberry - a distant relative. Unlike tomato and potato plants. cape gooseberry's leaves contain natural compounds that kill insect pests such as the tomato fruitworm within a few days. A specialty crop, cape gooseberry yields fruit that look somewhat like orange cherry tomatoes.

The team is relying on a technique called protoplast fusion to move the insect-resistance trait, explains Eash. Fusion requires zapping cells from cape gooseberry and tomato or potato leaves with electricity. Ideally, the jolt opens cell walls just long, enough for genetic material from the tomato or potato plant to mingle with that of the cape gooseberry.

Hall's job included meticulously nurturing petri dishes full of the electro-shocked cells. He prepared gel-like batches of nutrients that the cells needed for survival. Then, as cells developed, he learned how to carefully scrape off newly formed buds and move them to other petri dishes. When the buds started producing little leaves, I'd move them into test tubes or jars and keep records of each plantlet."

Later, Hall helped dozens of plantlets survive the move from their protected life in laboratory test tubes to green-house pots. "It's a big shock for them to come into the outside world." he says, but once they got stronger. I measured them, took pictures, and wrote up my observations of their characteristics."

Other tests will reveal which of the plants are true hybrids, that is, a cross of the cape gooseberry to tomato or cape gooseberry to potato. Related experiments will measure the new plants' resistance to hungry insects.

Hall is one of the dozens of college-bound minority teens that Western Regional Research Center scientists such as Eash and Waiss have mentored during the past 10 years. The students were enrolled in a nationwide program called SEED - Science Education for the Economically Disadvantaged.

The American Chemical Society, a national organization of professional chemists, sponsors the training, says chemist and American Chemical Society member Glenn Fuller at Albany. "We make sure they learn science and that they're not just stuck washing the dishes," he notes.

Fuller has convinced Eash and others to open their labs to the students. Salaries - a tax-free $1,200 for each student - come from corporations, foundations, and individual members of the Chemical Society.

High schoolers to fill SEED jobs at Albany are recruited by Elaine Yamaguchi and co-workers at Chevron Research and Technology Company in Richmond. SEED sponsors about 300 students throughout the United States each summer, according to Yamaguchi.

Eash believes that one of the most valuable lessons students learn from the ARS experience is that science in the real world "isn't always like high school science labs, where the experiments you do are always supposed to work."

Hall might agree. What impressed him the most about his weeks at Albany was learning from Eash that struggling with an experiment or making an error is normal. "A mistake," he says, "may lead you to discovering something new."
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Title Annotation:Science Education for the Economically Disadvantaged
Author:Wood, Marcia
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Apr 1, 1992
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