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From Nigeria to America and Back, iPlant Paves a New Path

George Ude (front left) with a delegation of his students preparing to travel to Nigeria, met with renowned biochemist, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, and Nobel Prize winner, Dr. James Watson.

By Surbhi Patel, NASA Space Grant Intern at iPlant Collaborative

Longtime iPlant collaborator George Ude recently was awarded the University Systems of Maryland’s endowed chair of the Wilson H. Elkins Professorship.

Ude, a professor of biology in the Department of Natural Sciences at a historically black university – Bowie State University – enthused about what the award means to him: “This position encourages me to work harder. I now have more money to hire undergraduate students to work on various projects and focus on furthering their education.”

Ude teaches molecular biology, applied biotechnology, and genetic engineering courses. Collaborating with the DNA Learning Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL), the National Institutes of Health, and the United States Department of Agriculture, Ude encourages diverse interests and experiences of students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

He was introduced to the iPlant Collaborative by the University of Arizona and BIO5 Institute’s Uwe Hilgert, who coordinated an iPlant workshop at Bowie State, presented by iPlant’s education, outreach, and training director, Jason Williams. Ude soon found that iPlant was the perfect data management tool for not only his undergraduate students, but also for his colleagues in Nigeria.

Later, Ude met iPlant faculty lead Dave Micklos at a meeting of the American Society of Plant Biologists, and suggested the possibility of doing iPlant training in Nigeria, Ude’s home country, where he still has numerous research collaborations.

Traveling to Nigeria in June of 2012, Ude and Micklos trained genetic researchers at Godfrey Okoye University in iPlant’s DNA Subway Blue Line tools for DNA barcoding analysis, and later returned to do DNA barcoding on Nigerian medicinal plants. Now, Ude has expanded his efforts. Since receiving a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Ude has taught his Nigerian colleagues how to analyze splice data, and large-scale RNA-sequencing data using iPlant’s DNA Subway’s Green Line tools.

iPlant also has enabled Ude to increase his students’ exposure to the application of science. Ude frequently takes students from Bowie State University to Godfrey Okoye, first to analyze the DNA of Nigerian plants, and then to categorize them using iPlant’s data management tools to share and analyze the genetic information. In addition, Ude has brought students from Nigeria to train at Bowie State University and CSHL.

Ude and Micklos have provide equipment and advice to establish a modern Biotechnology Laboratory at Godfrey Okoye. Now, some Godfrey Okoye students have gone on to create their own research projects in Nigeria, studying the genetic makeup of the native flora and continuing to use iPlant’s tools and services remotely for data analysis.

iPlant has been instrumental in helping students categorize the wild medicinal plants. Using the DNA Subway Blue Line tools, students can readily identify native species. “It’s vital that we categorize the plants in tropical Africa, since Africa depends on its natural resources for survival,” Ude explained, emphasizing the importance of his mission.

Through iPlant’s unique platforms such as DNA Subway, students and teachers around the world can work on the same projects, and use accessible tools to further science in their fields.

“We’re able to get students from both Nigeria and America to work on the same projects because of the infrastructure that iPlant provides,” Ude said. “iPlant has been a benefit in the sense that I’m able to teach bioinformatics to people in Africa. They can log in from wherever they are and have access to the data, which is something that I think is unique.”