Working on Spanish soil for the second time, Sarah was able to strengthen her biological background through analyzation of biologically engineered tomato plants
Sarah Van Belleghem peels an infected tomato fruit to extract and test its seeds

Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Plantas

After junior Sarah Van Belleghem joined a biological research group at the Universitat Politécnica de Valencia, her understanding of plant molecular processes was taken to a whole new level.  Her group, named IBMCP (Instituto de Biología Molecular y Celular de Plantas) specialized in analyzing the plant viroid Citrus exocortis (CEVd) derived from citrus plants, and its affect on tomato plants. 

In the lab, protein assays such as 2D-DIGE with MS allowed Sarah and the research group to identify the proteins whose concentration levels were possibly altered during the plant’s defensive response to the CEVd.  Sarah helped prove that the levels of pathogenesis-related proteins PR10 and P69G of the tomato plant did in fact increase dramatically through the use of reverse-transcriptase PCR tests, to qualitatively detect gene expression through the creation of complementary DNA and its reverse transcription, and 2D Western Blotting, to identify the physical protein through its adhesive properties, of the PCR agarose gel.  This data helped the group determine which genes to modify/enhance in their genetically engineered strain of tomato plants, aiming to create a more robust plant that could better survive future viroid attacks.


Sarah also attended some of the University’s weekly seminars that one of her mentors taught during the school year.  The topics varied from week to week, but most of the seminars geared towards instructing students in how to communicate within the biological field.  While she looked back, “The most unique communication skill taught was to treat aggressive questions (following one’s presentation) without dramatic answers for it could trigger a sense of defensiveness.  I found this funny and coincidental that I learned this in a seminar, since there does seem to be a poor filter for Spaniards when it comes to expressing their emotions.”

In the end, Sarah had a wonderful experience in the lab, as well as exploring the Mediterranean Sea and el Centro de la Ciudad.  The internship was an amazing opportunity for not only venturing off to another country, but also in grasping a larger, more worldly view of her subject, biology. 

  • Spain
  • Internship
  • Bio/Chem