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While in China, Alyssa Teat '11 and Julie Clifford '11 visited the autonomous region of Tibet. Below: Teat poses with a young Tibetan man while his mother waits patiently with the family yak.

Students selected for National Science Foundation research in China

By Colin McCandless ’01

Many people don't think of undergraduate liberal arts universities as strongholds of natural science research.

UNC Asheville senior Biology majors Julie Clifford and Alyssa Teat have done their part to soundly prove them wrong.

Clifford and Teat were among just 10 undergraduate students selected nationwide for a highly competitive National Science Foundation research program in China.

Partnerships for International Research and Education (PIRE) is an ongoing collaboration between universities in the United States and Southeast Asia to study the genetics of invasive species (think kudzu) exchanged between the two countries.

Before boarding a plane for Asia, Clifford and Teat underwentn intensive spring semester at the University of Georgia to prepare for the research expedition. They took Mandarin Chinese language and culture classes as well as courses on the genetics of invasive species.

Once they arrived in China, the undergraduate students headed to their home base at Nanjing University in Jiangsu province. From there, Clifford, Teat and the other researchers traveled throughout China for eight weeks collecting samples of invasive plants. They examined the plants' genetic markers, hoping to find ways to stop their explosive growth.

"It was definitely an incredible opportunity," said Teat.

"It was a great experience for international research because things were so different," said Clifford, who stayed in China an additional three weeks to serve as an intern in a medicinal plants genetics lab.

Now that they've returned to UNC Asheville, Clifford and Teat are completing additional undergraduate research projects. Teat is studying physiological and environmental factors that affect ginsenoside production in American ginseng, a plant native to Western North Carolina. Clifford is studying Piriqueta, a subtropical plant native to Florida.

Both are still amazed that they were selected for the PIRE program.

"Not many people have this opportunity, so I am grateful," said Clifford. "Alyssa and I were especially lucky that UNC Asheville's Biology Department is so wonderful that it helped make us serious candidates for a competitive program like this one."

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