NTC Graduates Research Piñon Pine Radioactivity

Aug 15th, 2009 | By | Category: 21-1: Celebrating Tribal College Journal's 20th Anniversary, Tribal College News

With funding from two Department of Defense instrumentation grants secured over the past 3 years, the chemistry and environmental science programs at Navajo Technical College (NTC, Crownpoint, NM) have acquired equipment to study genetics and environmental chemistry.

Danielson Barbone (Diné) is 2009 Student-of-the-Year, graduate of NTC’s Geographical Information Technology program, and is a National Science Foundation student research intern. Earlier this year, he extracted deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) from piñon pine (Pinus edulis) trees that are commonly found throughout the Colorado Plateau and other parts of the southwestern United States. DNA is the blueprint for almost all life on earth. It is found within all organisms, from whales to the peregrine falcon, to the grizzly bear, and man.

Malanie Begay (Diné), Environmental Science and Natural Resources Program graduate, has tested the extracted DNA using electrophoresis techniques to ensure that the extracted DNA is of sufficient quantity and quality.

TESTING DNA. From left, Malanie Begay, research assistant, and Danielson Barbone, research intern, conduct environmental research by testing pinon pine DNS at Navajo Technical College. Photo courtesy of Steven Chischilly

Eight control sites were established on the Continental Divide, Chuska Mountains, Carrizo Mountains, and the Defiance Plateau. From each site, 30 individual samples were collected and examined.

One of the sites is an abandoned uranium mine that has piñon pine growth. This site is radioactive. When tissue from any organism is exposed to the site, the tissue is bombarded by radiation, and mutations could occur in the DNA sequences. The potential for mutations increases the longer the organism is in contact with a radioactive source and also with the magnitude of the radioactive source.

The genetics and environmental research looked at the radioactive site trees and compared them to the nonradioactive trees (control sites) and compared the number and frequency of mutations occurring in both the mitochondrial and chloroplast DNA. Mitochondrial DNA evolves at a much slower rate than chloroplast DNA. Thus researchers can see if mutations occur within DNA differentially and can correlate this with tree age and proximity to the uranium mine tailings. In total, 288 trees were analyzed, including 48 trees from the abandoned uranium mine site.

The research work was completed in June 2009; it was conducted as part of a fellowship awarded to Steven Chischilly (Diné), Environmental Science and Natural Resources instructor and Science Department chair at NTC. Begay received a student scholarship recipient under the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship administered by the American Indian College Fund.

Chischilly and Begay have begun to present their work at various national conferences, and Chischilly intends to publish his findings soon.

In related news, NTC has acquired a liquid scintillation counter (LSC) that measures the radioactivity of samples. The equipment will be part of the environmental chemistry lab at NTC.

When an engineer installed the Perkin-Elmer Tri-Carb 2810 in the chemistry classroom/lab, he said that NTC is the second college/university in New Mexico to have the instrument. In New Mexico, most of the LSC instruments are located in the Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories.

For more information, contact Steven Chischilly at (505) 786-4147, or by email at schischilly@navajotech.edu See information on Navajo Technical College at http://www.navajotech.edu

Find similar: ,

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.