As FAU Biology undergraduate students, Justin Kirke and Stephanie Velez were awarded a joint Office of Undergraduate Research & Inquiry (OURI) award in 2016 for their research projects in the laboratory of Dr. Xing-Hai Zhang, Professor in the Biological Sciences Department. Working in Dr. Zhang’s laboratory, they used a deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) segment called a 'promoter' from the hot Sorrento pepper to investigate how gene expression is regulated in different plant tissues. Together with Biology graduate students Noah Kaplan and Paveena Vichyavichien, they discovered that this pepper promoter can direct genes to preferentially work in fruit tissues such as ovary, anther and pollen, not so much within the leaves or roots. The promoter activity can also be stimulated by wounding, heat, or precursors from the capsaicinoid biosynthetic pathway. This research has been recently published in Molecular Biotechnology as a paper entitled "Tissue-Preferential Activity and Induction of the Pepper Capsaicin Synthase PUN1 Promoter by Wounding, Heat and Metabolic Pathway Precursor in Tobacco and Tomato Plants." Currently, Kirke is a Biology Master's thesis student in Dr. Zhang ’s laboratory. Velez currently works with the United States Department of Agriculture. Kirke and Velez have also been featured in this week's OURI newsletter as a spotlight.