A Day in the Life...
Students in BIOL 3410 Microbiology this semester are serving as guinea pigs for the beta-testing of the next generation of VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology software. They join scores of students from across the nation in giving a trial run to VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology Internet Edition 2012 (VUMIE 2012). The software is a product of Intuitive Systems, Inc. and has ties to McMurry faculty and alumni. VUMIE 2012 will feature for the first time Mac and Linux compatibility and will sport a new look, new features, and a new lab manual.
VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology software is a self-described “flight simulator” for the microbiology lab, engaging students in the cognitive and manipulative skills required to study bacteria. The software won one of three awards for new software products for medical education at the 2000 Slice of Life/Computers in Health Education Symposium conference in Salt Lake City. Over 60 software packages entered the competition from four continents and around 20 different countries. VUMicro was the only winner not developed at a medical school. Today, the software is in use in colleges and universities across the nation and in a few nations overseas. For more info on what it can do, visit www.virtualunknown.com.
Besides the on-campus students in Micro, there is one student whose work schedule and place of residence make regular participation in lecture and lab at McMurry impossible. She has completed her degree in chemical engineering and is taking the course in preparation for entering pharmacy school, so the pitfalls of distance learning and rigors of the course should not prove impossible to overcome. For her, the use of the software means a virtual lab experience is available on a daily basis even though she cannot regularly join in the lab activities. Practice in streaking plates and microscopy and biochemical tests will be possible on her computer so that the methods and skills others are experiencing on campus do not pass her by. She will be “soloing” from her home an hour’s drive away while others are here on campus.
We will check back in later in the semester to let you in on how this experiment is working. Is the new software everything hoped for? Is our phantom student mastering skills and knowledge from afar at a rate comparable to those on campus?
Time is fast approaching when McMurry students meet with advisors and choose courses for the spring semester. The registration portal opens November 14th, and there will be some interesting (and not so obvious) options available for BIMS students!
- BIOL 4492 Entomology. Our star professor, Dr. Tierney Brosius, is teaching her specialty – Entomology – in a course that is open to any student with 6 hours of science. A third of the course will be basic entomology, a third will be medical entomology (diseases transmitted by arthropods), and a third will be forensic entomology. She has worked with law enforcement in Nebraska in the field of forensic entomology and is participating in a national study to better understand blowfly attractants and development. Your lab could be participating in this research!
- BIOL 3399 Animal Science. Local veterinarian Dr. Lynn Lawhon is teaching this course, a pre-requisite for acceptance into vet schools and a valuable course for anyone who will work with wildlife or in zoos. Pre-requisites to take this class are 6 hours of science courses. Remember that agri-biotech is a fast growing field!
- BIMS 4492 Immunology. Our resident immunologist, Sheena Banks, is teaching her specialty. Expect the course to be filled with molecular biology associated with the immune system and immune response. Pre-requisite is BIOL 3410 Microbiology. This course would be hugely important for anyone going into molecular biology, forensic science, or a medical field.
- BIMS 4250 Advanced Bioscience Laboratory. This course has a pre-requisite of BIMS 4320 Molecular Cell Biology and BIMS 4120 Molecular Cell Biology Lab. Sheena Banks will expand your skill-set by putting students into a research project that will feature tissue culture, rt-PCR, DNA sequencing, and more. Great experience for future biotech workers, students headed toward graduate school or the health professions, and those with an eye toward forensic science careers.
When Angelo Falcon chose his water source for the first project in BIOL 3410 Microbiology lab, he had little idea that it would bring to light an issue being discussed in Abilene City Hall. The class was charged with finding various sources of ground water and surface water to test for the numbers and types of bacteria present. Angelo sampled water from a man-made waterfall downtown, while others in the class tested streams and lakes and ponds and wells in and around Abilene. Testing included a standard MPN (most probable number) assay, followed by isolation and purification of a Gram negative bacterium, characterization of its colony morphology and staining characteristics, and biochemical testing to provide hints at its identity. The project culminated in confirming the identifications of isolates using BD-BBL Crystal(R) E/NF panels for rapid identification of enteric and non-fermenting Gram negative rods. Angelo’s isolate came back as Enterobacter cloacae, and a little snooping revealed this to be a microbe frequently associated with sewage and soil. A conversation with people associated with the waterfall revealed the water source to be a shallow well tapping into an aquifer found under much of northern Abilene.
And that is things began to add up. In early September, Abilene’s City Council dealt with the issue of shallow ground water in northern Abilene and its unsanitary condition by issuing a warning to residents with wells into this water source – do not drink the water, do not use the water for irrigating vegetables, do not allow pets or livestock to drink the water. Angelo can testify to the presence of nasty bacteria in the water. Add to Angelo’s work confirming evidence from Amanda Carter, a classmate who tested water from her father’s north-side well, and you have every reason to believe City Council made the right decision.
Its nice when what you are doing in the lab to develop basic skills has a purpose and relevance to society.