Graduate students in CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI)’s MS Biotechnology Program have completed a directed study project on the coronavirus that has changed life as we knew it.

Science is paving the way to conquering the COVID-19 pandemic, so the Program Director of the Master of Science (MS) in Biotechnology  program—Professor of Biology Nitika Parmar, Ph.D.— created opportunity from the crisis for students in the program, which is offered through CSUCI’s Extended University (EU).

“Students should be fully aware of what’s going on in this area of science,” Parmar said. “It’s very important to connect students with a real world situation. The pandemic is a burning issue in the real world, so what better way to utilize your biotech skills than to research something causing so much damage?”

The directed study project, which was highly technical, was conducted by Parmar’s summer class of graduate students at EU. It was so successful, she is continuing the work with her six undergraduate students in the Spring 2021 semester now. 

“Since its inception, the pandemic has taken several twists and turns,” Parmar said. “These changes meant a thorough, biological dissection of the virus’ molecular behavior was critical. We hope to continue this research, especially considering the emergence of new variants which are presenting new challenges. We have not seen the end of these variants yet, considering how fast viruses are known to accumulate changes.” 

MS Biotechnology graduate students like Maggie Jackson said it was important to focus on the “spike proteins” that stud the SARS CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID19.

 “Spike proteins are essential to viral invasion of human cells,” Jackson said. “The virus is composed of proteins. It infects human cells by binding to certain areas on human cells called receptors. Once the virus enters the cell, it basically hijacks the normal process of cell reproduction to produce more copies of the virus and initiate widespread damage. When that happens, people get sick.”

 The graduate students conducted their research this past summer with data from the research companies trying to develop vaccines, including Moderna, CureVac, BioNtech and Pfizer. All of the companies were working on a messenger RNA-based vaccine, which can “teach” cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response in the human body.

Parmar said MS Biotechnology research classes like the one conducted this summer, and the undergraduate research going on now in her lab, are critically important so that the next generation of scientists will be fully prepared to face and conquer any future pandemics.


For more information on the MS Biotechnology program, please visit our website.  

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