by gwilson on Nov.21, 2015, under A Day in the Life...

DSCN3124We believe strongly in our approach to research at McMurry.  We see research as not being the “other” thing professors do after they have completed their teaching for the week; we see research as a great teaching tool for the average student.  For instance, in Microbiology this semester the final project students are doing is determining whether their cell phones put out sufficient radiation to mutate the Staphylococci they isolated and identified from their bathrooms during project two.  By doing this, they are learning literature searches, experimental design, development of antibiotic resistance by bacteria through random mutations (or in this case radiation-induced mutations), and scientific writing.  All good skills we would have expected from our capstone students (well, the mutagenesis probably would’ve been some other investigation).  Here, they are doing these things as sophomores.  Similar approaches to research as a teaching tool are seen in many other BIMS courses, starting with their yeast fermentation experiments in their first semester General Biology I course.

But beyond research in regular lab courses, we also expect every student to have a capstone project involving research or internship.  Research project currently in progress include the following:

  • Studying the metagenomics of populations arising in Winogradsky columns vs. those of populations arising in Benoit columns (our Dr. Benoit has developed an alternative formulation for Winogradsky columns that uses diatomaceous earth instead of actual water source sediment as the basis for the solid phase of the column – see prior posts for more on this!).  We are determining whether the Benoit column develops similar population profiles as those arising using actual sediment.
  • Studying the presence of Coronaviruses in bat populations.  Bat guano is collected and screened using genomic tools.  Methodology began with samples recovered from museum specimens and has progressed to catching bats in the field and obtaining fresh samples.
  • Studying the genomics of moles from museums around the nation to determine the biogeography and distribution of unique populations.  Discovery of the westernmost specimens in Texas by one of our professors has led to this study to figure out which eastern population was the source so that a migration map can be constructed.
  • Recovery of antimicrobial and anti-cancer chemicals from regional plants.  Samples are obtained, studied chemically and physiologically for antibacterial properties on the McMurry campus.  Collaborations between our faculty and those at other universities (University of San Francisco, Baylor University, and University of Pennsylvania) allow more advanced chemical analysis and anti-cancer screening assays.
  • Studying the migration of crabs from coastal areas to inland lakes in Texas.  Lots of time is spent sampling regional lakes for the presence of these invasive species to determine routes and methods they use for finding new freshwater habitats.  A parallel study to this is the attempt to breed the crabs in captivity, something that has never been successfully done.

Is this it?  Is this all our students have to choose from?  Nope.  This is simply the projects currently underway.  We hope others will join our Research Teams and find their own, unique project from these and other options available at McMurry

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Recruiting for BIMS

by gwilson on Oct.29, 2015, under Program

pyp_crewOne thing academic programs share with athletic programs is the need to establish and cultivate a pipeline of new talent into the system.  One day our current students will graduate, and without new faces to take their place our programs would cease to exist. Like any team sport, being successful all boils down to numbers – recruiting great talent in quality and quantity.  In the months to come, BIMS will once again make its pitch to bring in a large, talented class of bright and eager students intent on being academic superstars and thus prepare for their future careers in health professions and other fields.

One great recruiting opportunity for BIMS is in the McMurry University Honors Program.  Around 30% of all Honors theses in the past few years have been written by students from one major – Biomedical Science.  The other 45+ majors have contributed the rest.  So, we eagerly anticipate Honors Days at McMurry.  These events introduce prospective students to McMurry, our Honors program, and many Honors students.  There are faculty interviews and an essay, all of which factor into awarding of very sizable merit-based scholarships.  Honors Days this year will fall on November 14, November 21, and December 12, and we will be there to describe our program.

We are very excited about Science Saturday, which is coming on January 23, 2016.  All prospective students with an interest in a science major will be invited to campus for the day, to hear about our programs, participate in hand-on activities related to our programs, and otherwise get a feel for the warm, welcoming environment to be found on campus.  BIMS will contribute at least two activities to the morning:  an epidemiology simulation/contest, and a DNA extraction and analysis activity.  Students will be able to choose which sessions they can participate in, up to three during the morning session.  Of course, ours will be the best. :)

So we hope you can make it to one of these events!  If not, you can always schedule your own personal visit by calling 325-793-3800 and asking for Admissions.  We look forward to getting to know you and your family and helping chart out your college career!

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Improving the aim of fungi

by gwilson on Oct.01, 2015, under A Day in the Life..., Projects

dung_cannonIn BIMS, we believe a student “gets it” more quickly when the topics covered in lab are intertwined and connected – not when they follow the disjointed and unrelated approach seen at most colleges and universities.  For that reason, we are teaching our Gen Bio I lab through student participation in four major projects.  We believe we can give students a good look at the various topics central a first semester freshman biology course through Winogradsky columns (their “pets”), experiments with the fungus Pilobolus, photosynthesis with alginate balls containing the alga Chlorella, and fermentation experiments using the yeast Saccharomyces.

Pilobolus is a fungus that grows on the dung of herbivorous animals.  It is sometimes called the “shotgun fungus” or “dung cannon” because of its means for dispersing spores.  Its life cycle includes production of spores that shoot out from the fungal colony to land on nearby grasses.  When a herbivore eats those grasses, the fungus germinates and grows in the animal waste where it produces more spores to shoot out and start the cycle over again.  The key to success for the fungus is a light-sensitive structure that helps aim the spores away from surrounding dung toward an open area where new grass can be found.

The question our students have been asked to determine is whether it is possible to improve the accuracy of the fungus by natural selection.  Cultures are grown in a closed container with a hole provided for light to pass through.  Our students are placing sterile coverslips over the holes to catch any spores that are accurately shot at the light.  Those inaccurate spores hit and stick to the other parts of the container.  So each group will create one of these chambers and after two weeks will take photos of the inside of the chamber to document where spores hit (the scatter pattern).  Then, the cover slips are removed and used to inoculate new plates of media.  The experiment is repeated with new chambers to see if spore accuracy is improved by using spores that were accurate the first time.  If the spores hitting the coverslip give rise to fungal colonies with more accurate spores, the scatter pattern for the second test should be much smaller and more concentrated than before.

What are we learning?  Phototropism, some mycology, cell biology, cultivation techniques, experimental design, data analysis, and much more.  Will this work?  We’ll let you know in a few weeks!

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