Beyond the Classroom

Ezra Levy ’15 was mentored by New York Botanical Garden Cullman Associate Curator of Bioinformatics Dr. Damon Little. For seven weeks, Ezra worked on devising a rapid DNA extractor for use by botanists in the field. Isolating plant DNA usually takes place in a laboratory, Ezra explains, where equipment, like the centrifuges needed to separate DNA from tissue, is readily available. Preserving sensitive samples between field and lab may also require specialized treatment, like refrigeration. Ezra worked to develop a buffer solution that would defer the need for that equipment in the field by allowing scientists to sample plant DNA at collection, and preserve its stability for later sequencing.

“I prepared solutions, tested them on plant samples, then recorded and interpreted the data,” says Ezra. “I needed to consider how chemicals optimize the pH or the buffer-base of the solution, and how solutions affect plants of different varieties, textures, chemistries, or morphologies. It was an opportunity for exposure to real-world science—to effectively move beyond the classroom.”

And Ezra’s work could have far-reaching implications for field researchers, adding efficiency to their work

“I hope my time at the garden will be useful not only for me but for other scientists who may benefit from my tidbit of work. The project should help improve some results collected in the field, as it would nearly eliminate the need for transporting lab materials, while collating the same data more quickly and just as effectively,” says Ezra. “As for me, there is no question that my internship helped shape my notions of what I could accomplish in college and in a career in the sciences.”

"The Pfizer lab is a fantastic place to work. There aren’t many labs in the world populated with a community of scientists so invested in both their work and the work of their mentees, be they graduate students or summer interns. I will be hard-pressed to find another lab so comfortable to work in, flooded with natural light, with a beautiful view over part of the garden."