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Published: Wednesday, 10/22/2008

Pettisville FFA member touts lowly squash

BY ANGIE SCHMITT
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Laura Bruner is a senior at Ohio State University. Laura Bruner is a senior at Ohio State University.
NOT BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

PETTISVILLE - FFA member Laura Bruner, 21, has an unlikely antidote to one of the most pressing world problems.

As part of her agriscience fair project with Pettisville FFA, Ms. Bruner has done research on the squash variety known as cucurbita pepo, helping find ways to make it more attractive, sweeter, and less stringy through breeding. Her research on this hardy and nutritious vegetable, she thinks, has the potential to help curb hunger in developing countries, particularly in Latin America.

"It's really cheap and easy to grow," she said. "It's not as picky as other plants."

The Ohio State University senior's research has put her in the running for, arguably, the highest honor given by the agricultural organization formerly known as Future Farmers of America.

Ms. Bruner is among four national finalists for the agricultural organization's Star of

America Agriscience award. She is the 21st Ohioan to be chosen as a finalist, the state's first since 1988. If she wins, she will receive a $4,000 cash prize and a research trip to Costa Rica.

Ms. Bruner has been studying cucurbita pepo over the course of six years. She worked with the geneticist at Rupp Seeds in Clinton Township while she was completing her research.

She said her parents, Dan and Jo Bruner, forced her to join FFA seven years ago. Her father is a resource management specialist at the Fulton County Soil & Water Conservation District.

Now, she's grateful.

"It gave me an outlet for everything I wanted to do and everything I'm passionate about," she said. "Obviously, this led me to what I want to do in college."

She works in the plant cellular and microbiology lab at OSU, where she is a senior in plant pathology.

After graduation, she hopes to continue her research on the cucurbita pepo while she pursues her PhD.

Joining her at the National FFA Convention, today through Saturday in Indianapolis, are two fellow Pettisville FFA members, senior Rebekah Meller, 17, and junior Ashley Eicher, 16.

Miss Meller has been researching the effect of garlic on bacteria in a lab setting. Her finding: the pungent plant is about as effective as antibiotics.

She is a finalist for FFA's national proficiency award in food science and technology. She has earned a $500 prize for finishing in the top four nationally. She will be competing for a trip to Costa Rica.

Miss Eicher's research was on the effects of the naturally occurring growth hormone, gibberellic acid, on sunflower seeds. She will be competing in the botany division. She won $75 for finishing first in the state.

John Poulson, FFA adviser and Pettisville agriculture teacher, said his national contestants got a strong start in science through Pettisville's science fair in eighth and tenth grades.

They also had a great deal of help from the community, he said.

"These girls are real hard workers," he said. "They like science."

Contact Angie Schmitt at:

aschmitt@theblade.com

or 419-724-6104.



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