1. Honors Research. We have several students in various stages of their Honors research. Some are in their infancy – like Payden Dompe’s work snooping down the origin of moles found in our area using genetic analysis of moles found elsewhere. There’s just something crazy about trying to extract DNA from the toes of moles from museum specimens around the country… Then there’s Sophie Southwell’s continuing quest for viral DNA from bat populations. Seems she will have to focus on harvesting bat guano from wild bats instead of using materials held in deep freeze for prolonged periods of time. Some people have all the fun! And then there’s Taylor Russell’s research comparing bacterial diversity found in Winogradsky with that of Benoit columns made using sediment from the same source (Benoit columns are made using diatomaceous earth as a replacement for soils and were invented at McMurry by Dr. Tom Benoit). Her test run of the methods yielded over 170 species from 112 genera, 56 families, and 32 orders. She’s awaiting her results from experiments run in the fall and will get her analysis done in the next few weeks. All this is to say that some interesting things are a-happening!
2. Recognition. McMurry was ranked #8 small college STEM program in the country in a recent review of programs by “bestdegreeprograms.org”. STEM programs include all academic programs related to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. We were the top rated small college STEM program in Texas (one of only two in the ranking of the top 30 schools). Biomedical Science is mentioned specifically as one of the premier programs. We like that kind of notoriety. Their description of McMurry’s programs starts this way: “McMurry University may not be the most well-known school in Texas, but it is undoubtedly one of the most respected.” The article goes on to cite our perennial ranking as a top school in our category by U.S. News & World Report, and a Top 100 ranking nationally by Washington Monthly. Not bad!
3. On the horizon. We are excited about the return of Environmental Science next fall. The program was hugely successful in its previous iteration at McMurry and promises to rise to that level again very quickly. We are also excited about a grant that is being written this spring and which could bring some tremendous changes to our programs and facilities as early as next fall. And it all starts with great students. We were very excited to participate in Science Saturday last month and this month’s Scholarship Day. It is always fun meeting with future students and their families and starting to build those relationships that will help each major reach higher than their grasp and shine brighter than they thought possible. As usual, a large share of those students in attendance want what BIMS has to offer.
So there you have the latest from the BIMS program at small college superstar McMurry. As much as the big universities would like to think otherwise, sometimes the best surprises come in small packages!
- Science Saturday! January 23rd will feature an open house for the sciences at McMurry. Science Saturday is an opportunity for the community, and in particular regional high school educators and students, to come experience the unique flavor of McMurry’s science programs. There will be hands-on events sponsored by our science faculty and students. Biology will host three sessions – one an exercise is studying population diversity in an ecological setting, another a forensic science activity using conventional and molecular techniques, and a third centered on epidemiological investigation of a mock disease outbreak. In each case, students and other visitors take on the role of scientist to see how knowledge is put into action to solve real-world problems.
- Honors Research! This spring we will have only one Honors student completing Honors research. The student is Taylor Russell, standout basketball player for the Lady War Hawks. Her project is using molecular techniques to investigate whether microbial populations in traditional Winogradsky columns are also supported in diatomaceous earth (DE) columns (now becoming known as Benoit Columns in reference to their discoverer, our own Dr. Tom Benoit). We are eagerly anticipating the results from the epigenetic analysis because it is likely some of the microbes discovered could be members of the new domains of organisms first reported this summer.
- Faculty Research! With the announcement that four of our Biology faculty received KIVA grants and Sam Taylor Research Fellowships, the move will be on to study bats and plant diversity and invasive crab species and mole migration patterns. Students will be given the opportunity to dive in and learn as they conduct research.
- And Speaking of Grants…. The department will be deeply involved in the writing of a major grant that has the potential to transform McMurry sciences. This multi-year, multi-million dollar grant would bring improved spaces and equipment and new opportunities and programs to our current and future students. More on this as we get deeper into 2016!
So there you have it. Lots to be excited about as a War Hawk BIMS student! May this be a great year for us all!
We 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