Acorn worm genome reveals evolution of human pharynx

When 2011 BioTrain intern Stuart McFarland began working with an acorn worm genome at HudsonAlpha’s Genome Sequencing Center (GSC), he didn’t expect to see the genome eventually published in Nature.

“In high school, I had ambitions of pursuing computer programming as a career,” McFarland said. “I spent a good deal of time writing code while in my BioTrain internship. I never anticipated the project would be published in Nature. It’s definitely very exciting!”

McFarland completed the BioTrain internship the summer before his senior year of high school and is currently pursuing a degree in chemical engineering at Auburn University. He has been named as an author of two papers in peer-reviewed journals.

BioTrain internship helped former intern with college courses

“The internship was very helpful,” McFarland said. “Most of my peers don’t have the opportunity to work in a professional environment until college. Having that kind of experience in high school really encouraged me to push myself and gave me an advantage in my college classes.”

The acorn worm genome assembly, published online November 18, is helping researchers understand more about the 570 million year evolution of gills into the human pharynx and jaw.

“Stuart did some good work on this project, and he was an eager learner,” said Jerry Jenkins, PhD, the genome analysis group leader in the GSC. Jenkins works with the BioTrain interns in the GSC each year. “This is the first time we’ve seen a project with contributions from a BioTrain intern published, so it’s gratifying to see his hard work rewarded.”

Read more about the acorn worm genome assembly published in Nature.

HudsonAlpha programs provide foundation for biology, biotech

While BioTrain is no longer available for high school students, HudsonAlpha’s Biotech Academy program is specifically designed to provide high school students with a strong foundation in research lab skills as well as an introduction to the latest discoveries in genetics, genomics and biotechnology. Biotech Academy nominations are currently open.

BioTrain applications for summer 2016 have closed, and applicants will be notified about whether or not they have been accepted into the internship program by March 18.

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