Spotlight on Undergraduate Research — Madison Granduke

Valencia College has developed an undergraduate research initiative — based on nationally recognized models — that expands opportunities for students to partner meaningfully with faculty members to pursue a specific course of research. As most community colleges only offer undergraduate research as a very small boutique opportunity for a few students, Valencia has become a leader in community college research. Last year, hundreds of Valencia students worked in one or more modalities of research. This is vital for students exploring STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) -related professions through transfer, both to better discern their purpose and pathway, and to have experiences comparable to their peers at the university to which they transfer.

With this initiative underway, we will share with you the success of our students’ undergraduate research through a new bi-monthly series — Spotlight on Undergraduate Research.

Student Madison Granduke hopes to one day earn a Ph.D. in marine science, so that she can conduct research on jellyfish and other invertebrates. In order to gain research experience, she started right here at Valencia College, where, as part of the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP), she spent four months working on a research project with her faculty mentor, Dheeraj Verma, professor, biology.

She conducted her research, “Analysis of Extremotolerant Tardigrade Genome for Potential Applications in Medical and Agricultural Fields” to gain knowledge about extremotolerant abilities of tardigrades (how tardigrades — or water-dwelling, eight-legged, segmented microanimals — tolerate extreme conditions), so that the information can be utilized in agricultural and medical fields.

Tardigrades harbor genes that can provide tolerance against various diseases, so her aim was to analyze the tardigrade genome for genes that could impart resistance to diverse types of stresses and to generate models of proteins encoded by tardigrade-specific genes and study them. In addition to protein modeling and analysis, Madison also used data mining to explore past research on the topic.

From her research, Madison found several stress-related genes — some of which are specific to the tardigrade — a very rare occurrence. With further research, these genes could prove to aid in things like extended vaccine storage and transportation, organ transportation and the creation of drought-tolerant plants.

“More research is, of course, required,” she explained. “My next step of testing if tardigrade genes can be used in the medical and agricultural fields is to see how tardigrade proteins function in model organisms.”

Appreciative of the experience that Valencia offered her, she said, “The research allowed me a chance to hone my skills and offered great experience for my future in the STEM field. I was able to refine my presentation skills and share my hard work with others just as interested as I was.”

“Doing research like this was a great, hands-on way to learn more about your field and to discover new ideas,” she added.

Madison plans to transfer from Valencia to the University of South Florida in spring 2020 to complete a bachelor’s degree in marine biology.

For questions about Valencia’s undergraduate research initiative, contact Melonie Sexton, professor, psychology, at UR@valenciacollege.edu or 407-299-5000, extension 5632.

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