Honors Research

by gwilson on Apr.01, 2013, under Projects

CWB ChinaRock croppedRecently, three BIMS majors found out they will receive Bloomer and Beasley Research Fellowships for the coming year.  All three are students of Dr. Gary Wilson and will be pursuing different projects investigating Bacillus thuringiensis spore properties as they pursue Honors research and write their Honors theses in the next year.

The Charles and Lisa Bloomer Research Fellowship is awarded to support research of promising students in the School of Natural and Computational Science (SNCS).  This initiative of the Science and Math Advisory Board (SMAB) provides a research stipend for students as they work closely with McMurry faculty on a research project.  Dr. Bloomer is a successful oral surgeon in Abilene who has generously and regularly supported the sciences at his alma mater.  The biennial picnic the Bloomers host for SMAB members and SNCS faculty is a popular event building relationships and communicating the vision each holds for McMurry’s science future.  The Beasley Research Fellowship is a new program supporting student research in the biological sciences.  McMurry’s science alumni are spearheading an effort to create an endowment in memory of Dr. Clark Beasley, Distinguished Professor Emeritus from the Department of Biology who died this past summer.  This represents the first year this fellowship has been awarded.

Recipients of this year’s awards are Heather Rawls, Miranda Nguyen, and Nicole McGunegle.  Their projects will study wild type and genetically-engineered strains of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and Bacillus cereus (Bc) grown in rich and poor media.  Bt is a spore-former that produces an insecticidal toxin at the time of sporulation.  Bc is a commonly encountered and well-studied spore-former closely related to Bt but generally harmless.  The genetically-engineered strains include  Bt strains that do not form crystals and Bc strains that have been engineered to produce Bt crystals.  One project will look at how the presence or absence of the crystal in rich and poor media influences spore and crystal size and toxicity.  A second project will look at how growth conditions impact spore dormancy and the process of activation and germination.  It is possible an undiscovered variation of quorum sensing might be involved.  The third project will explore UV and chemical resistance of wild type and genetically-engineered strains produced in rich and poor media.  All projects fit the criteria for BIMS research:  a complete project doable in a short time frame, certain discovery no matter the experimental outcome, publishable work.

Stay tuned for updates on how this work is progressing!

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Capstone Investigates Fermentation

by gwilson on Apr.24, 2012, under Projects

luke project design1

Senior BIMS major Luke Burcham has a fascination with fermentation.  As an amateur brewmaster, his interest in the physiology of yeast fermentation has resulted in his choice for “life after McMurry”.  He will be entering a graduate program at UC-Davis in January to study all things related to fermentation and brewing.  From Borger TX to Davis CA is quite a move, but Luke is ready for the adventure.

With that in mind, Luke worked with Dr. Tom Benoit this semester to design a project that would give him a head-start on his graduate studies.  After Luke reviewed some literature on the subject, he began to envision a project to investigate the impact of modifying the ion content of the growth medium for beer production to determine the best formulation.  The experimental design began with a question on how calcium levels in the water used for the process might influence the physiology of the yeast in the batch.  Could it be that increasing calcium ion content altered the growth characteristics of the yeast and alcohol content of the product?  Would hard water result in a fundamentally different product than that produced in soft or distilled water?

Notes from research meetings and designs for experiments decorate the white board in the senior research lab (shown above).  The final design Dr. Benoit and Luke settled on centered on using production of cell clumps and measurement of alcohol content as ways of monitoring physiological differences between batches.  As yeast grow in a broth culture, they can form clumps of cells that fall out of suspension as nutrients are exhausted and the growth period comes to a close.  This flocculation of yeast cells and cell debris is a necessary step to move from the cloudy active culture to a clear final (and commercially appealing) product.  Could calcium concentration alter the dynamics of growth and flocculation?

luke burchamAfter completing a variety of experiments this spring, the answer seems to be “yes”.  Luke tells me that batches made with distilled/RO water averaged clumps of 17 cells (as measured microscopically using a hemacytometer), while batches made with added calcium chloride averaged clumps of 55 cells.  In addition to having larger clumps, calcium enriched batches also produced less alcohol (as measured using a hydrometer).  Luke is currently in the analysis process – explaining why clumps are larger and why larger clumps mean less alcohol produced –  as he takes these findings and turns them into the final project poster for his capstone experience.

Luke’s project is a great example of the flexibility we provide our students to pursue senior projects in line with their interests and future plans.  Luke’s future seems destined to be quite different from the one envisioned when he began his college life as a Biomedical Science major intent on dental school.  However, the knowledge and skills and abilities gained in the BIMS program have application to his future and have equipped him well to succeed in his graduate work at UC-Davis.

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Real-life CSI!

by gwilson on Feb.06, 2012, under Projects

fly clip artFor the past decade, one of the most popular television franchises has been CSI, where the tools of forensic science are used to solve crime.  The BIMS program was created to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to join their TV counterparts to help bring criminals to justice.

But forensic science is MUCH more than DNA fingerprinting and other biotech and immunological methods.  Sometimes, the key evidence is provided by six-legged pests.  This semester, upper level students in Dr. Tierney Brosius’ Entomology class and two capstone students are joining scientists from universities across the country in a project being directed by the University of Nebraska to study chemical attractants that draw flies to decaying flesh and to see what species are most commonly attracted by which chemical.

To do their work, students will create bait traps containing suspect chemicals and scatter them around campus.  Then, over the course of many days the flies attracted will be counted and identified to search for patterns and answers.  Results will be added to those from students from other schools to see whether there are regional differences in effective chemicals and in species attracted.

More than anything, such studies provide students with valuable experience participating in the industry of science.  But another benefit is the realization that the glamour and simplicity of television science and technology come about through long, hard work done by dedicated researchers.

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