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Photo at left: Terns Lab undergraduates line up in order of lab seniority. From newest to oldest (left to right) are Alyssia Mitchell, Sonam Brahmbhatt, Chip Chambers, Jesse Hu, Nikita Vantsev, Josh Kalter, and Erin Hollander. Photos at right (clockwise from top left): 1) Michael Terns shares a laugh with Jesse, Nikita, and Erin. 2) Jesse and Alyssia work with samples in the lab’s glove box. 3) Nikita, Erin, and Josh examine proteins on a gel. 4) Jesse and Alyssia work with their lab mentor and Ph.D. student Julie Grainy. 5) Sonam sterilizes equipment. 6) Chip slices sections in a gel in the lab’s darkroom.

Story and photos by Stephanie Schupska

Experiential Learning: Research

Research revolution: T he sound of a knock echoed around the empty lab. A second of silence followed, and then an undergraduate peered around the door. It was 1995, and Michael and Rebecca Terns were unpacking boxes from a recent move to the University of Georgia. “This super-composed student walked in and told us all about herself and asked if she could do research with us,” said Michael Terns, a Distinguished Research Professor in biochemistry and molecular biology. After brief consideration, they said yes, and “we learned right away how valuable and smart and fun undergraduates make the lab.” After 22 years at UGA, the Terns Lab is an establishment in the biochemistry and molecular biology department. Both Terns were fixtures in the lab until late last year when Rebecca transitioned from senior research scientist to a new job in the UGA Office of Research. She now works with faculty across campus as a proposal enhancement officer. The Terns Lab is known for basic biology research of CRISPR-Cas systems, a technology revolutionizing the world of gene editing. The lab is trying to understand the mechanism of how bacteria



Undergraduates in Terns Lab help forge future of gene editing

and other single-celled organisms use CRISPR-Cas to fight off viruses by slicing and dicing their DNA. Around the world, researchers use CRISPR-Cas like molecular gene-snipping scissors, selecting a target in a cell and snipping out and replacing the DNA segments inside it. The technology is incredibly precise—and much less expensive than previous gene-editing techniques.

Learning through research

Michael Terns’ student-focused approach—and the attraction of working in a lab that is literally doing cutting-edge research—has undergraduates lining up at his door via email, hoping that their virtual knocks will land them an interview and then a job in the lab. The Terns Lab has had 82 undergraduates, and all seven currently there are in Honors, which is not a requirement, and four are CURO Honors Scholars. Josh Kalter, a junior biochemistry and molecular biology major, started searching for a research assistantship toward the end of his freshman year at UGA. “My experience in the Terns lab has proved extremely valuable,” he said. “In my first month in the lab, I learned more

than I have ever learned in a classroom. I learned how to read and understand scientific literature, how to be organized, how to work diligently, and how to write thoroughly, all skills that make me a better student and researcher.” Jesse Hu, a senior double-majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology and genetics who is headed to medical school this fall, “chose the Terns Lab because I was interested in CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing technology and wanted the opportunity to learn more about the bacterial immune system it was based on.” The Terns Lab is studying diverse CRISPR-Cas systems found in various bacterial or archaeal organisms. These include Streptococcus thermophilus, a bacterium used by the dairy industry as a starter culture for yogurt and cheese and Pyrococcus furiosus, a hyperthermophilic archaeon that naturally dwells near hydrothermal ocean vents and thrives at the boiling point of water. “There are three stages of CRISPR: the adaptation stage, the expression stage, and the interference stage, and we are looking at that first stage,” said Chip Chambers, a sophomore CURO Honors Scholar studying biology and economics.

Honors Magazine Spring 2017  

In this issue of Honors Magazine, we take a look at engineering student Gaby Pierre, how experiential learning initiatives are playing out t...