U of I Senior Montana Rayburn Sows the Seeds of Her Career Through Lab Internship
Throughout her life, Montana ‘Tana’ Rayburn learned by doing. From kindergarten through 12th grade, she took classes through an online charter school, never setting foot in a formal classroom or lab.
Today, Rayburn is a senior majoring in biotechnology and plant genomics, working alongside Associate Professor Joseph Kuhl in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. They are researching several litchi tomato genes that may one day be used to develop nematode-resistant potato plants.
Rayburn did not always view the lab as her chosen workplace. A hands-on experience through the Idaho IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (Idaho INBRE) Industry Internship Program solidified this Careywood native’s future.
“Idaho INBRE is a competitive grant from the National Institutes of Health,” said U of I Distinguished Professor and Idaho INBRE Director Carolyn Hovde Bohach. “Our primary goal is to advance our biomedical research capacity statewide, and our internship program is one of the many ways we build a culture of research across our state’s educational institutions and provide pathways to biomedical and other biotech careers.”
Rayburn immediately saw value in the program, which was advertised through her professors.
“I wanted to gain research experience and learn skills in the biotech field, so I decided INBRE would be a great way to do that,” Rayburn said. “Plus, it gave me the opportunity to explore and present research in the lab.”
While working under Walter Mueller, lab director at Accurate Testing Labs, LLC, Rayburn learned how to conduct science in the diagnostics industry.
“I did basic lab upkeep, like cleaning, equipment calibration, test preparation and microbial analyses of water and bio-solid samples from all over the panhandle,” Rayburn said.
Rayburn’s work also involved a 10-week research project, where she helped determine correlations between organic carbon in wastewater and the presence of Cryptosporidium, a single-celled microscopic animal that causes human intestinal issues. Her findings: Organic carbon’s presence was not an effective indicator of Cryptosporidium’s presence.
I really love working in the lab. I found out that it’s a great fit for me. Montana Rayburn ’20
“Tana was one of many successful summer industry interns in our laboratory,” said Mueller. “She has a very professional work ethic and was able to increase her bench skills thanks to this.”
Mueller says the U of I-led Idaho INBRE program plays a key supporting role in the state’s biotech workforce.
“Our company has participated in the Idaho INBRE program since 2004,” Mueller said. “It’s important that tomorrow’s scientists have the opportunity to earn and learn in a scientific setting so that Idaho can increase our biotech industry’s potential.”
Rayburn credits the Idaho INBRE internship as her breakthrough experience that led her into the lab.
“I really love working in the lab,” Rayburn said. “I found out that it’s a great fit for me. Coming from a homeschool background, I enjoy managing my own time and having the resources to find answers to research questions. Working in a lab is great for that; it’s my happy place.”
Rayburn’s involvement in Idaho INBRE’s Statewide Research Conference inspired her to transfer to U of I from North Idaho College.
“There were so many interesting posters from across the state, but everything fell into place when I saw U of I’s diverse range of work,” Rayburn said. “I saw all kinds of posters on vaping, cancer, microbiology and different organisms. It showed U of I really had a wide range of research opportunities.”
Rayburn says she would probably not have learned of these opportunities if it hadn’t been for U of I and the INBRE program.
“They have great student outreach programs, and people are willing to talk with you. It’s a good community, and I appreciate that,” she said.
A statewide network of Idaho’s educational institutions, led by the University of Idaho, last year received a five-year, $17 million award to build Idaho’s growing biomedical workforce and strengthen research infrastructure.
The funds, received through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Program from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, will continue research on advances in areas including new antibiotics, brain trauma, safety issues with e-cigarettes, cancer therapeutics and improvements for wound healing.
The Idaho IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (Idaho INBRE) comprises a network of 11 state institutions: University of Idaho, Boise State University, Brigham Young University-Idaho, The College of Idaho, College of Southern Idaho, College of Western Idaho, Idaho State University, Idaho Veterans Research and Education Foundation, Lewis-Clark State College, North Idaho College and Northwest Nazarene University.
Article by Phillip Bogdan, Office of Research and Economic Development
Photos by Joseph Pallen, University Communications and Marketing
Published in the spring 2020 issue of Here We Have Idaho.