Tag: biology

Fall Course Update

by gwilson on Sep.27, 2009, under A Day in the Life...

dsc04We’re now about a fourth of the way through the semester, and I thought I’d give an update of what’s going on in our BIMS courses and program.

BIMS 1300.  Intro to Scientific Research.  Dr. Benoit has students looking at contemporary issues in science and explaining the science and processes and research to students in the class via formal presentations.  Ever wonder what they’re talking about with stem cells, how DNA fingerprinting is done, how ethical breaches impact biomedical research?  Stop by and you just might find your answers!

BIOL 1301.  Unicellular Organisms.  Dr. Benoit has had the unfortunate luck over the past few years of seeing every book chosen for this course taken out of print.  He’s decided to take things into his own hands and has go with a custom published book that draws only the chapters central to his course from a larger textbook.  The course is taking a decided cell anatomy and physiology focus to help prepare students for their sophomore level classes.

BIOL 3410.  Microbiology.  Dr. Wilson has his students screening fresh vegetables for E. coli and other enteric organisms.  Next up will be their screening of the campus population for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).  Real science here conducted by lots of sophomores and juniors from Biology, Nursing, Biochemistry, and Biomedical Science majors.

BIOL 3460.  Genetics.  Dr. DiFrancesca will be missing class in mid-October to attend the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in San Diego.  By then, the students will have isolated their own DNA and will be in the midst of PCR and analysis.  While she’s gone, the students will have a guest lecture by Dr. Jon Weidanz of the Texas Tech School of Pharmacy in Abilene (and the founder of the biotech firm Receptor Logic) discussing the genetics of biotech research.  Amazing things going on in here!

BIOL 4320.  Molecular Cell Biology.  Students are getting a great foundation in the fundamentals of molecular structure and control of eukaryotic cells.  This course represents the content capstone for BIMS juniors, where knowledge from previous semesters is integrated into a full understanding of how cells work.  Dr. DiFrancesca has got it going on in here!

BIMS 4120. Molecular Cell Biology Lab.  Here, Dr. DiFrancesca builds on skills learned in Genetics the year before to provide a deep experience in molecular biology techniques.  Students have not begun working with cancer cells yet but will embark on that journey before much longer.  Imagine the conversation around the dinner table at Thanksgiving – “Sonny, what are you doing in your classes at McMurry?”  “Well, grandma, we’re studying and trying to find cures for breast cancer.”  Is that the type of thing you’d hear from average students from average schools?

So, its business as usual in the BIMS courses, all geared toward giving students real experience solving real problems.  When you compare this approach to education to those from other colleges and universities, you see very quickly that we take a different approach and give our students a different experience because the futures of our students depend on doing so.

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Senior Student Projects

by gwilson on Apr.22, 2009, under Projects, Students

posterfragEach Biology and BIMS major takes a senior capstone course in which they are tasked with conducting, analyzing, and reporting on a research project of their own design.  This spring, the Senior Biology students are presenting posters of their research projects on Monday, April 27th from 2:30 to 4:30pm.  The posters will be displayed on the wall outside of S115.

 There is a variety of projects ranging from ecological studies to projects focused on biomedical research.  Dr. D is overseeing projects that center on studies of cancer cell growth when treated with various supplements that advertise anti-cancer properties. 

 The following biomedical research projects will be presented by students for their finale reports:  

“Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on the MDA-MB-231 Breast Cancer Cell Line”

“Effects of Resvesterol on the Human Breast Cancer Cell Line, MDA-MB-231”

“Effects of Green Tea Extract on the growth of MDA-MB-321, a Human Breast Cancer Cell Line with Invasive Properties”

The poster session will be held in the Finch-Gray Science Center on Monday, April 27th.  Please feel free to stop by at any time between 2:30-4:30pm, as the students will be available to discuss their projects and their findings.

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Pooling Resources, Creating Opportunities

by gwilson on Mar.23, 2009, under A Day in the Life..., Projects, Students

endospore21This spring, Dr. Paul Pyenta has his Biochemistry II students diverging from the normal course of lab exercises.  In doing so, he is accomplishing three things:  teaching the techniques and knowledge of the course in a new and engaging way, giving his students exposure to how research is done, and keeping his personal involvement in research going.

About two years ago, a conversation between Pyenta and two Biology faculty exposed a problem he was equipped to tackle.  Drs Wilson and Benoit are microbiologists who study the spores of Bacillus thuringiensis.  Bt, as it is called, is mostly known for its production of a toxin that is selectively toxic for the larvae of several damaging insect pests.  During Wilson’s doctoral research, an interesting observation was made – the spores made in the soil seem better suited to survival in insects, and the spores made in insects seem better suited to survival in the soil.  This has spurred a desire to study the ecology of the organism more closely, and led Benoit to propose an experiment to follow the fate of individual spores through susceptible and non-susceptible insects.  But, with Bt spores so small, no convenient way was available to do the experiment.

Enter Dr. Pyenta.  In conversation, it was decided that spores and cells expressing green fluorescent protein (gfp) could be used to follow the spores through the insect. Only problem – no appropriate gfp-containing Bt strains existed.  All previous cloning of gfp in Bt was done to follow the presence of the crystal protein in nature, in genetically modified foods and the like.  Their discussion led to a proposal - Pyenta proposed that his lab could clone the gfp gene into Bt so that a visible marker was present to detect the fate of spores.

The cloning work has been conducted for the past two years by undergraduate students doing independent research for Pyenta.  It has gone slowly, as many quirks make cloning into Bt not possible by use of traditional methods commonly used.  Progress made so far has moved the project to the point where students in his Biochem II lab are equipped to use the lessons learned to tackle the project this semester.  In doing this, students get to see how the skills and knowledge of their regular course can actually be put into action on a real research project. 

One of the frustrations science faculty face at small colleges is finding time to remain active in research.  Expecting similar productivity to that achieved when one was a member of a research team working full-time on a project funded by a national agency is foolishness.  Instead, faculty must find creative ways to keep their skills up, perform experiments in economical and efficient ways, and use available resources wisely.  Dr. Pyenta is accomplishing these things by teaching his course through involving students in his research (instead of relying on a bunch of unrelated and seemingly random canned exercises leading nowhere), by conducting the work within the parameters of his normal teaching load, and by pooling resources through collaboration with other faculty on a project of common interest.

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