Q & A with Tuskegee Biotech Researcher Jacquelyn Jackson

Jacquelyn Jackson (PhD ’08 genetics) is a research assistant professor of molecular biology and genetics in the Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at Tuskegee University.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish with your research on sweet potato?

A: Sweet potato is an important staple crop worldwide. If we can better under- stand how plants defend themselves against attack at the molecular level, we can possibly develop new plants with improved disease resistance and durability. Tuskegee has been creating transgenic sweet potatoes since the 1990s, so if we discover a gene that may be useful, we have the ability to transform the plant and potentially increase its disease resistance. Our group also has developed sweet potatoes with high protein content and others that express anti-cancer and anti-HIV peptides.

Q: What’s the most satisfying aspect of your work?

A: One is interacting with and impacting our students. It’s exciting to see several of our students heading off to graduate school, including enrolling at Iowa State. A second thing that’s exciting is traveling internationally and getting to teach and train others in biotechnology. It was extremely rewarding to see how tissue culture techniques I use in the lab directly impact food security in a positive way. I’ve been to Bangladesh and Ghana to train students and lab workers in the research techniques they’ll use to develop crops less burdened by diseases and that yield more.

Q: How did your experience at Iowa State influence your career?

A: I love Iowa State University and try to get to Iowa every chance I can; it’s like a second home for me. I loved my adviser, Dr. Allen Miller (professor of plant pathology and microbiology) and my lab mates. The camaraderie, the atmosphere, the freedom to learn—you just felt stimulated to think. I appreciated the integrity, the standard and the quality he brought to our research. I know now it’s more easily said than done, but I’ll keep trying to follow his example. I feel that I spend most of my time teaching and training these days than doing research, but the influence of Iowa State’s excellence is always there and on display.

Q: Who inspires you from the history of agriculture?

A: Of course I’m going to say George Washington Carver, but maybe not for the reasons many choose. I’m a religious person and I admire how Carver didn’t let science squash his faith. It helps me understand that I can hold on to my faith and be successful in science as well. Carver also was so humble and dedicated in the work he did for his people. For him to leave Iowa State and the opportunities he had there, and instead come South when racial tensions and threats were part of everyday life—he let his service to the poor and the struggling farmers of Alabama drive him. He left a tremendous legacy.