UH Interim President David Lassner was the keynote speaker at the January 14 meeting of the Rotary Club of Honolulu.
It’s not every day that a community college student makes a scientific discovery. But that’s exactly what James Carrillo did at Leeward Community College. He sequenced the DNA for a taro virus that had never been identified.
“I wasn’t looking to discover something new,” explained Carrillo. “I mean it was great, but the experience of actually doing the work and actually learning how to do it was most important to me.”
Carrillo came to Leeward with a love of gardening and plants. “After I came I got more interested on the molecular side of plants and biology.”
He was recruited to participate in a summer mentoring program through the University of Hawaiʻi medical school called INBRE, the Idea Network for Biomedical Research Excellence. Its goal is to channel students into STEM fields; science, technology, engineering and math.
“We really want to give students projects that give them in-depth, actual research experience rather than cookbook type of experiences,” said Associate Biology Professor Kabi Neupane, who mentored Carrillo.
“Actually working instead of being in a classroom and just learning about it in a textbook–it’s very different and it really helps,” agreed Carrillo.
Viruses can be found on any plant or in any soil sample. Carrillo discovered this virus in the school’s taro patch.
“It has a smaller genome than other viruses, larger viruses,” he explained. “It doesn’t infect the plant itself, but it infects another host, such as like a fungus, that lives with the plant.
With a certificate in Plant Bioscience Technology, Carrillo is now at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa pursuing a degree that he hopes will lead to a career involving genetics and plant biotechnology.
“Leeward has helped me a lot in planning for my future and college education and career,” he said appreciatively.
Since he discovered the virus, he got to name it. He called it the Leeward Taro Virus. “It just seemed fitting.”