Cobb’s Corner: Research Assistant Alexis Payne

Cobb’s Corner is a reoccurring feature of the CRL News-letter featuring a brief interview about the lab experience of a current researcher. In addition to learning more about their research, we learn how Dr. Cobb’s vision and mission is carried on through our efforts in the CRL today. See More, including a Video Companion, at

Our researcher is Ms. Alexis Payne, who recently graduated in May 2015 from Howard University with a B.S. in Biology. Originally from Shaker Heights, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland, Ms. Payne was interviewed by Nicholas Guthrie, the current webmaster at the CRL.

Nicholas Guthrie (NG): How long have you been with the CRL and how did you get involved?
Alexis Payne (AP): I've been working in the CRL since the spring semester of my senior year, and I originally heard about it through Dr. Fatimah Jackson, who was my professor at the time. She proposed a dental project, and, because I have an interest in dentistry, I was very excited to hear about the opportunity. So, I have been working here for about 8 months!

NG: So, can you tell me about your dental project?
AP: This summer, I was trained by Dr. John Harvey, the chair of periodontics at Meharry Medical College, and Christopher Cross, the assistant curator, where we learned some dental techniques for extracting cementum from the skeletal remains in the Cobb Collection. Since then, I have been extracting cementum from selected individuals within the Cobb Collection, which have been screened for use in projects across the lab. We are currently optimizing a method to extract the DNA from the cementum and we hope to successfully sequence that DNA. If we are successful, we want to extend this protocol to the entire collection.

NG: What has your experience been like working alongside our research associates, like Dr. John Harvey?
AP: It was a wonderful experience learning all of the dental techniques with Dr. Harvey this summer. He was very informative and knowledgeable, which fed my passion for dentistry. Dr. Muneer Abbas has allowed us to use his lab, at the National Human Genome Center, to do our DNA extractions from the cementum, which has been a wonderful resource to the CRL.

NG: You sent the CRL readership a message about a T-Shirt Campaign, Would you like to talk about that and the other things you are doing here at the CRL?
AP: Yes! I chose to be the fundraising chair for the CRL and I started a t-shirt campaign to raise funds for our student researchers. Other projects I have worked on, have been peer mentoring our Summer Medical and Dental Educational Program (SMDEP) students where we pioneered a new research component to the program.

NG: What makes the research so “pioneering”?
AP: SMDEP is a national program offered at select schools around the country but not all have research components. Here at Howard, we decided to grant the students access to the Cobb Collection where they sketched historical backgrounds on select individuals and collected data on the contextual information around those individuals. Furthermore, the students were offered an opportunity to become published with their writing in The Backbone, which is coming out this December.

NG: That sounds wonderful! How has your participation with the CRL aligned with your future goals?
AP: The dental projects I'm working on have continued to fuel my passion for dentistry, as I plan to attend dental school in the fall of 2016. Learning about anthropological dentistry and other information in this in the field has been a wonderful learning experience. Peer mentoring, is another huge aspect that I love about the CRL because I have a passion for giving back and helping others. The connections that I've made with professionals (physicians, dentists, PhDs, and other people who are like me!) has really opened a lot of doors for me and my other peers. It has been a real blessing to receive their support and encouragement.

NG: I’m thrilled you are having such a wonderful time with us. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us!
AP: Thanks Nick!***

Cobb Lab