A Peek Inside Sumner Lab on National DNA Day

Lab Volunteer, Jerrod Stone, shares his experience and the latest projects

April 26th is National DNA Day! 

Researchers have been busily prepping the Sumner Lab since its opening in January 2019. As key instruments and materials began to fall into place, everyone was eager to get to work with all the lab had to offer. 

Jerrod Stone has been a beloved FWBG | BRIT volunteer for the past several years. His passion for plants drew him to the BRIT Philecology Herbarium where he assisted with several projects with the herbarium team. 

December 2018 – NLU Repatriation Project with Herbarium Collections Manager, Tiana Rehman, in the front with (left to right) Digitization Coordinator, Joe Lippert, and Herbarium volunteers Jerrod Stone and Ana Albaron.

Jerrod jumped at the opportunity to assist with the beginning stages of research in the Sumner Lab. FWBG | BRIT is so grateful for all of the time and effort he has put into the projects across the Research department. We thought it would be great to interview Jerrod to learn about his experiences working in the lab and with plant DNA.

How long have you been volunteering with the Sumner laboratory?

“I started volunteering in the Sumner laboratory in September 2019.”

What kinds of projects have you been working on?

“I started working on a rehousing project for the biorepository to organize preserved plant DNA tissue samples, and help share them with researchers around the world. This was also part of the Global Genome Initiative for Gardens and GGBN. As I gained more experience, I moved into doing DNA extractions and PCRs on plant specimens from Madagascar with Dr. Morgan Gostel to help with research projects and gain more experience with laboratory techniques at BRIT…”

Jerrod pipetting samples for gel electrophoresis.

“.. I’ve also worked with lichen specimens from the Philippines Dr. Manuela Dal Forno. I purified and sequenced these samples. I have recently learned how to edit/verify DNA sequences.”

The lab biorepository is now functional and ready for more tissue samples thanks to Jerrod’s hard work organizing and solidifying protocols. This will be such a valuable resource for researchers around the world! You can read more about the Global Genome Initiative for Gardens here: https://brit.org/research-projects/biodiversity-and-floristics/the-global-genome-initiative-for-gardens-ggi-gardens/ 

The next few years will continue to bring in more vascular plants, mosses, and lichens collections from Philippines expeditions thanks to the National Science Foundation-funded grant received in 2018. Stay tuned for more discoveries in the future from these exciting expeditions: https://brit.org/research-projects/biodiversity-and-floristics/plant-discovery-in-the-southern-philippines/ 

What is your favorite part of the work you’re doing?

“Working with species that are either new or endangered. I like working with new species because I’m breaking new ground, and introducing a new species to the world. I like working with endangered species to help preserve something that is at risk for going extinct and being lost forever.”

The Sumner Lab isn’t the only space in the BRIT building designed for preserving plant DNA. The Conservation Seed Laboratory and Seed Bank is prioritizing the preservation of rare and threatened Texas native plants: https://brit.org/research-projects/texas-plant-conservation-program/conservation-seed-laboratory-and-seed-bank/

Conservation Research Botanist Kim Taylor processing seeds in the BRIT Conservation Seed Laboratory and Seed Bank.
Has anything about the work surprised you?

“Yes, it was somewhat easier than I expected. Going into this, I thought genetics research would be more complicated. It’s still fun, though.”

What is most challenging about working in a lab?

“When we had multiple PCRs fail, through process of elimination, we came to the conclusion that the PCR primers failed due to a power outage. Either that or pipetting a small amount of PCR product into the wells while running the gel electrophoresis. Mostly because those wells are tiny, and I’m visually impaired.”

Jerrod looking at the analysis of the DNA sample.
Has COVID affected your ability to volunteer at BRIT and if so, how?

“Yes, for one thing, BRIT shut down for a while due to COVID. Also, I love getting to spend time with my BRIT people. COVID restrictions made this more difficult.”

We love spending time with Jerrod at BRIT too! We’re thankful for passionate and dedicated volunteers that love plants as much as we do. We’re hoping to see more volunteers back with us in the future when COVID restrictions subside.

Research Team