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March 25, 2009

Media Contact: Hannah Buchanan
Public Affairs Specialist
News and Information
The University of Texas at Tyler

UT Tyler Biology Student Research Recognized at National Conference

Biology students at The University of Texas at Tyler were honored at the 2009 Southwestern Branch of the Entomological Society of America Conference in Stillwater, Okla., Dr. Blake Bextine, UT Tyler assistant professor of biology, announced. 

Junior Patrick Marshall of Jacksonville received the Undergraduate Student Achievement in Entomology Award. In addition, junior Sarah Hancock of League City and senior Chris Timmons of Longview won first and second place, respectively, in a student poster presentation. Hancock and Timmons competed against other undergraduates and graduate students from universities including Texas A&M University, Oklahoma State University and New Mexico State University.

Other UT Tyler student-attendees were graduate students Peixin Jiang of China, Daymon Hail of Tyler and Henry Schreiber IV of Tyler; senior Kyle Spencer of Crandall; and sophomore Brittany Pierce of Athens.

All of the students currently serve as researchers in Bextine’s laboratory.

“The work being done by these students is really important to the future of several agricultural industries in our state,” said Bextine.

The Texas Pierce’s Disease Research and Education Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service, Texas Department of Agriculture, the Texas Potato Growers and Frito Lay have provided research funding.

Hancock’s winning project “Colonization of Candidatus Liberibacter sp. in Bactericera cockerelli” has improved understanding of how the pathogen, which causes the Zebra Chip disease in potatoes, interacts with its insect vector. Her data will be used to develop management tactics which will benefit U.S. potato growers, Bextine said.

Timmons’s project “Age Determination and the Red Pigment in the Wings of the Glassy-Winged Sharpshooter” provides a method to determine the age of the glassy-winged sharpshooter insect. The insect is known to transmit the pathogen that causes Pierce’s Disease in grapevine – the single, greatest-limiting factor for the state’s grape and wine production, according to Bextine. 

Bextine said Marshall has been sequencing the coat protein of a virus that negatively impacts the insect.

“Undergraduates can be valuable members of a
research team, and in the process they learn how to work through the scientific process,” Bextine added. “They are the future of science in this country, and they need to not just be exposed to the work, but they need to be immersed in it.”

One of the 15 campuses of the UT System, UT Tyler offers excellence in teaching, research, artistic performance and community service. Nearly 90 undergraduate and graduate degrees are available at UT Tyler, which has an enrollment of more than 6,000 high-ability students at its campuses in Tyler, Longview and Palestine.


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