Dr. Skerritt and CCC student Jonathon Fleming analyzing data.
Dr. Matthew Skerritt and student Jonathon Fleming analyzing data.

Meaningful research

Jonathon Fleming, from Elmira, N.Y., and a graduate of Southside, plans to work in bioinformatics. Because he is practical and financially savvy, he determined that the smartest way to realize his professional goal was to complete as many credits as possible at the most affordable tuition he could find. He chose Corning Community College and found more than affordable credits. He began a research project that will further his career goals.

“Conducting research with college professors is usually only an option for upperclassmen,” said Fleming, who expects to transfer to SUNY Brockport in the Fall. “The research experience I’m getting at CCC has confirmed how I want my future to unfold and will help me make it happen: when I apply for opportunities, I won’t be starting at the beginning and will be ahead of many other applicants.”

Biomedical research, according to his professor and mentor, Dr. Matthew Skerritt, often requires big labs full of expensive equipment. Skerritt, however, is taking a different approach. Skerritt developed a collaboration with the Genomics Education Partnership, a consortium of genomics researchers led by the Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., which is one of only three nationally-funded, large-scale DNA sequencing centers in the country.

“Genomics research results in a massive amount of data,” said Skerritt, CCC assistant professor of biology. “While research universities may have the resources to collect this data, they often lack the hands to analyze it. Therefore, by collaborating in this way, Washington University is better able to tackle its genomics big data challenge, and CCC students gain meaningful research experience working on a project with tremendous relevance and potential.”

Fleming is analyzing the genomes of Drosophila, the common fruit fly, with a particular focus on one chromosome that packs its genetic information differently – more tightly – than other chromosomes.

“This, in and of itself, is not that unusual,” said Skerritt. “In humans, for example, females store one of their two X chromosomes in this way. In so doing, they turn off the genes on that chromosome. What is interesting about the chromosome in the fruit fly, however, is that even though the DNA is packed tightly, genes on the chromosome are kept ‘on,’ as if they were in a looser state. We really don’t see that in other instances.”

The understanding gained from this work will lead to better insights into the regulation – the turning on and turning off – of certain genes, and this knowledge may have practical implications in terms of health and disease. That, Skerritt said, is their overall goal.