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UHV biology students successfully clone four South Texas plant genes (w/video)

By Carolina Astrain
April 30, 2014 at 10:04 p.m.
Updated April 29, 2014 at 11:30 p.m.

Megan Huerta, a University of Houston-Victoria student, picks out a plant sample from the Victoria Educational Gardens used as part of a gene-cloning project for Dr. Hashimul Ehsan's biology class.

A team of University of Houston-Victoria biology students' work may contribute to understanding why cancer cells exist.

They are in the process of submitting plant cloning experiment results as a part of their work.

Alba Sanchez pulled on a pair of elastic gloves and lifted a tray of transparent DNA sample gels.

"They're made with a substance called agar," Sanchez said. "We put these things here to create wells where we're going to put our samples of DNA."

Sanchez, a UHV junior and biology major, was demonstrating how a team of 19 undergraduate students and their professor, Hashimul Ehsan, were able to clone a portion of genes pulled from four plants native to South Texas.

"You have to be very careful because this gel can actually slide off and fall everywhere," said Sanchez, who came to UHV from Equatorial Guinea. "You don't want that."

Zac Tegeler, a senior biology major, said he never expected to do something as sophisticated as gene cloning as an undergraduate student.

"That's top of the barrel - it doesn't get any higher than that," Tegeler said. "Beforehand, I wasn't very knowledgeable about it; just the word itself has a kind of mystique to it."

The students explained the gene-cloning process used for their project Wednesday as part of a classroom presentation.

They collected 19 samples for the project and were able to successfully clone the genes of four plants pulled from the Victoria Educational Gardens - white Texas star hibiscus, salvia, Indian wood oats and skeleton-leaf golden eye.

This was the first time for these South Texas plants to be cloned, Ehsan said.

Sanchez said the group chose to work with the plants' GAPC gene, which is part of what scientists call the GAPDH because of its catalytic nature.

The GAPC gene is an enzyme that breaks down the glucose in cells used to create energy.

The data collected from the experiment will be sent to the National Center for Biotechnology Information GenBank to be used by researchers, said Ehsan.

Ehsan said the project wouldn't have been possible without a $2,000 grant from the University of Houston-Victoria's School of Arts and Sciences' Dean's Office.

"The GAPDH gene is highly present in cancer cells," Ehsan said. "So understanding GAPDH can give us some clues as to why it's different in some cells."



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