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A Simple Introduction

By Thilani Jayakody, 2016 Noble Summer Research Scholar in Plant Science

Posted Jul. 1, 2016

I am going into my junior year at Michigan State University (GO GREEN!) with a deep interest in biotechnology, but I have not always had this passion. I initially started my undergraduate degree as a neuroscience major in hopes of going to medical school, but as I sat in one of my introductory biology courses my mind was quickly changed. Going to a big land grant university that was established as a school of agriculture, there has always been a subtle push to head down an agricultural research route. My introductory biology professor had a thorough plant science background, and he began a lecture on biotechnology. The topic caught my interest, and one month later I had changed majors, rescheduled my courses for the following semester and completely overturned my future plans.

Now as a developing researcher in this field I have found out the hard way that people have very strong feelings about every aspect of agriculture. I kept finding myself stumbling into conversations on the topic and realized that many of my peers had outrageous impressions on what biotechnology entails. I once had someone tell me they were afraid of modified DNA in their food getting translated into their own DNA. I stood there wide-eyed, not only with the image of this person as half-human-half-banana but also with the disbelief that they actually thought this was true.

I quickly realized though, that this person was not entirely at fault for thinking something as absurd as becoming some kind of human-banana hybrid. There is a huge disconnect from the science community with the rest of the population. Information gets stuck in lengthy research papers and long conference lectures, and it never makes it out to the general public.

This fact has driven me to not only become a better researcher but also a better educator. It's easy to share your results with those who already understand what you are researching, but it takes another kind of intelligence to communicate those results to someone with a completely different background and interests.

Being fresh to this field, I still have a lot to learn, not only about biotechnology but also all the other industries that my research will affect. I want to help develop the bridge between each aspect of agriculture, from the farmer to the researcher and to the consumer. This has led me here to the Noble Foundation. As an institution based on these same principles, I look forward to taking the positive message that Noble has to offer and carrying it back home to Michigan when I return in August.

About the Author

Thilani Jayakody is a 2016 Lloyd Noble Scholar in Plant Science from Saginaw, Michigan. Her summer research project focuses on 1) producing gene lines that visually show genes related to phosphorus-starvation and 2) screening a chemical library for compounds that interfere with phosphorus signaling.