In Carver’s footsteps

1 Jun

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Jacquelyn Jackson is a Southern girl at heart. Born and raised in Alabama, she attended Tuskegee University for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. But then she was lured north by Iowa State University.

“I was on a panel at a plant biotech workshop, and some Iowa State professors were here,” Jackie says. “Afterwards, they came up to me and gave me brochures and information about Iowa State.”

Jackie was still an undergraduate at the time, and she quickly forgot all about the encounter until she completed her master’s degree and began to look for a school to attend for her doctorate.

“When I started thinking about colleges, those Iowa State brochures came back up, and I looked at them. They were so inviting that I thought, you know what? I’m going to try Iowa State.”

Jackie spent six years in Ames working toward her 2008 Ph.D. in plant genetics.

She says that attending the same university as George Washington Carver, who became famous for his scientific research at Tuskegee, was unintentional, though she is well aware that she is following in his footsteps with her focus on genetically engineered sweet potato and peanut plants.

“Carver was a true genius,” she says. “And I can count on my hand how many people I would put in that category.”

Today Jackie is a research assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Tuskegee University. Her current project involves cloning disease-resistant sweet potatoes in an effort to boost the root vegetable’s nutritional quality. One of her goals is to increase the amino acids to benefit third-world cultures that don’t have access to animal protein.

“We at Tuskegee still continue Carver’s tradition to work on those two crops – sweet potato and peanut. I guess you could you say Carver has done much of the work for us. If he were here today, it would be amazing what he could have done if he had the technology and the tools that we have. And when you look how complex sweet potato’s genome is, it’s just amazing he did what he did.”

Photo note: Standing in front of the George Washington Carver Museum at Tuskegee University, Jackie holds a sweet potato plant growing in tissue culture, part of a breeding line called W154.

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