Anthocyanins — compounds with antioxidant properties that give fruits like blueberries, raspberries and cherries their pigment — “have known health benefits,” explain Aulet and Ross, who are working with researchers to extract and analyze anthocyanins from the cherry collections grown at the station between 2011 and 2014. “We are planning to compare the different types of cherries to determine if there is one specific kind that has higher concentrations.”
After their training earlier in the summer, they “are now responsible for every step of the project. That includes preparing our cherry samples, extracting the compounds we are looking for, placing them in the High Performance Liquid Chromatography machine, as well as ensuring that the HPLC machine runs correctly.”
Not only do Aulet and Ross have “free rein over the direction of the project,” but because “there has been very little research done in this field, we are doing something that hasn’t really been done,” they explain.
From biology and chemistry lab classes, which taught Aulet and Ross these technical processes, to the biostatistics course that will help them interpret the data, “the skills we have been implementing here at the USDA stem from the many science classes we have taken at HWS,” they explain. “It is exciting to be able to apply our knowledge to something new, while continuing to learn and grow as science majors.”
During their internship, Aulet and Ross also hope “to analyze the anthocyanin contents in different brands of cherry juice concentrate” and “explore any correlations there might be between the origin of the cherries and characteristics such as sweetness, acidity and antioxidant properties.”
As the High Performance Liquid Chromatography machine returns data, they will begin the analysis, compile findings and make their conclusions for a presentation on Friday, July 27.
For many years, HWS students like Aulet and Ross have collaborated with the USDA and Cornell University researchers at the Geneva-based USDA station and the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, also in Geneva. Each year at these sites, HWS students participate in summer or academic-year research, which often fulfills course credit for independent studies, Honors work or semester-long research projects, or monetary compensation for such research work.