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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Nobel Week

by gwilson on Oct.08, 2014, under A Day in the Life..., Projects

nobelstudentsIn Contemporary Issues in Biomedical Science this semester, students are learning about the groundbreaking discoveries that will change the form and direction of health and medicine for years to come.  The students all have health professions in mind, and participation in this course should help inform them of breaking news in science just in time for their professional school admissions interviews.

This week the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded. John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser, and Edvard I. Moser are being honored for their work in discovering how the brain recognizes spatial location – a sort of “GPS” in the brain.  The announcement on Monday coincided with completion of a major assignment in the Contemporary Issues class.  Each student selected a Nobel Laureate from recent years and completed a research-style poster on their story, their work, and the ramifications of their discovery for the future of health and medicine.  From Sydney Brinner’s work with C. elegans to Elizabeth Blackburn’s studies of telomeres, from Stanley Prusiner’s discovery of prions to Fire and Mello’s transforming work on RNA gene silencing and Robert Edward’s opening the world of in vitro fertilization, all are showcased as defining discoveries with long-term impact.

These posters are being displayed in the Finch-Gray Science Center in time for this year’s McMurry Homecoming weekend.  Friends and alums will be able to see the emphasis we are placing on giving our BIMS students an education that is current and vital and geared as much toward “what will be” as it is in “what is past”.  We hope you will drop by for a look!

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Making Foods with Microbes

by gwilson on Nov.25, 2013, under Projects

DSCN4598 Students in BIMS 4491 Food Microbiology got to show off their mad skills and knowledge in a food tasting event held on campus this morning.  During the semester, students have learned about foodborne illnesses and food safety, food spoilage and food production using microbes.  Everyone earned their food handling certificate and did safety sampling of college student kitchens.  Today marked the end of their first major project – production of foods using microbes.  Each student was charged with producing two different foods (that could not be the products of the same microbe).  Our end result was a menu of chocolates and cheeses, pickles and sauerkraut and kimchi, wines and mead and ginger ale, and much more.  The campus community was invited, a television news camera crew arrived, students explained the lengths they went through to make safe, tasty foods.  By all accounts, the event was a hit and impressed everyone who attended.

If learning isn’t fun, something’s wrong.  If what goes in your head doesn’t apply to life around you something’s wrong.  This project attacked both of those head-on to give our students fun, applicable knowledge and skills.

Next up for these students?  Creating a guide entitled “Guide to Safety in the Kitchen for College Students”.  More on that later!

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