A Day in the Life...

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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Summer Activities…

by gwilson on Jul.17, 2015, under A Day in the Life...

two-girlsMay brings finals, graduation, and a lull in campus activity.  However, summer is anything but a quiet time in the Department of Biology.  Here are some of the things happening as we hit the mid-point of summer vacation.

1. SOAR registration.  It has been a very good summer for the BIMS program as we look at the number and quality of new students being added to our program.  Freshmen are being added as they register during the Summer Orientation and Registration (SOAR) activities.  Students from large cities and small towns are choosing to call McMurry their college home.  Among them are young men and women interested in a variety of medical fields, forensic science, and biomedical research.  Another SOAR is coming up at the end of the month, and the capacity has already been expanded to allow us to handle the growing interest being shown for McMurry’s science programs.

2. Faculty news.  Dr. Tom Benoit had an article published in the Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education on a new formulation for creating Winogradsky columns (the “pets” our BIOL 1301 Unicellular Biology students regularly make).  This new approach has been adopted by teaching and research labs around the nation.  Dr. Dana Lee has a new research article in the Journal of Mammalogy.  Dr. Lee used molecular techniques to study the genomics of bats from a number of small colonies scattered among the Ozark Mountains of Oklahoma and Arkansas to determine the connectedness between the populations.  This summer, her husband was awarded his PhD from Oklahoma State University, meaning there are two PhDs in the home.  A third publication from our faculty is also coming.  Dr. Anna will have an article in this fall’s Journal of the Botanical Research Institute of Texas.  It explores the geographical distribution and history of plants from southwest Texas.  Drs. Boyle and Brant have been working to get our new biological research station (Firebase Libby) ready for our students and courses.

3. Student news.  Kara Black, recent graduate, has received an invitation to join the incoming class at the UNT-HSC Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Ft. Worth.  This was her chosen program.  Three BIMS majors are working in research with the Department of Chemistry this summer.  They are being paid through the Welch Foundation Departmental Grant.  Greg Aiken, Dialfin Hammond, and Genna Hart are all working with Chemistry faculty on ongoing research projects.  Also, Sophie Southwell is this summer’s Beasley Research Fellowship recipient.  She is working with Dr. Lee on an interesting project using molecular tools to study the prevalence of coronaviruses in bats.

4. New programs.  We are ready to go on our new biology degree programs.  BS Biology, BS Biomedical Science, and BS Life Sciences all are new for 2015.  You can see the details by visiting Biology’s new and improved webpage.

Enjoy your summer and looking forward to seeing everyone in lat August!

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Science Fridays

by gwilson on Mar.17, 2015, under A Day in the Life...

2015-02-26 14.14.21This year, science programs at McMurry have made a concerted effort to enhance the science community of our students and faculty through Friday afternoon activities.  We call these events Science Fridays.  Typically, science program clubs meet over the noon hour, and then we have something planned.  Sometimes it is tutoring, sometimes it is a field trip or a guest speaker, sometimes it is a service project, sometimes a special guest (photo at left is of Jonathan Urbanczyk, 2011 graduate who is in medical school and came to campus last month to talk to our students).  In all of these things, we hope that our science students and faculty cultivate deeper friendships and get comfortable living in the world of science.  Though many of the activities are arranged for all science students, we find that often different audiences have different plans.  For instance, the Physics and Math folks have planned activities more in line with their students’ interests.

Just announced is the schedule for the rest of the semester for those with an inclination toward biology, healthcare, and chemistry.

  • March 20.  Texas Tech’s Biotechnology Program is coming to McMurry to speak about their new local Biotech program at the TTU School of Pharmacy-Abilene and to recruit students for their summer internship program.
  • March 27. The US Army will bring healthcare professionals to campus for a suture clinic.  Students will learn how to stitch-em-up in a hands on activity.  Reservations are required.
  • April 3.  Good Friday, no school.
  • April 10. TTU School of Pharmacy will be hosting our students in their drug compounding clean room to teach them how drugs are formulated and compounded.  Reservations are required.
  • April 17.  Metroplex Genetic Counselor Jenny Howell will be on campus to give an address and answer questions about what genetic counselors do.
  • April 24, last Friday of the semester.  TTU School of Public Health-Abilene will conduct an epidemiology simulation for our students.  Students will assume various roles in a study to find the source of an outbreak and develop strategies to prevent its spread.  Reservations are required.

I think it is safe to say the added benefits of coming to a small university like McMurry includes events like these where our students get exceptional enrichment opportunities!

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