Tag: cell biology

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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Watch, Do, Teach

by gwilson on Jun.07, 2012, under A Day in the Life...

Charlie Troxel, Li-Cor field engineer, gives pointers on interpretation of DNA sequencing gel analysis to Paul Pyenta and Sheena Banks.

Charlie Troxel, Li-Cor field engineer, gives pointers on interpretation of DNA sequencing gel analysis to Paul Pyenta and Sheena Banks.

One of the hallmarks of medical education is the concept of “watch, do, teach” – watch a procedure, do the procedure, teach the procedure – as a way to grow knowledge and skill in future doctors.  That same approach was used this week as Charlie Troxel from Li-Cor in Nebraska visited the BIMS labs to help McMurry faculty improve their skills with their DNA sequencer.  McMurry’s sequencer has been in service since 2008, but changes in personnel and projects necessitated some training upgrades.  McMurry faculty used PCR to amplify their target DNA and loaded the sequencer on Wednesday afternoon.  Fourteen hours later, the sequencing was done and teacher and students reconvened in the BIMS lab to observe the results.  Several software packages allowed the participants to evaluate the confidence of each base sequenced and provided ways to align sequences to test their consistency.  Pointers were given on how best to proceed with the plant samples Banks will analyze for Dr. Anna this summer as a part of a project to study genetic drift between specimens of a species collected in Old World and New World ecosystems.  The Li-Cor 4300 will get quite a workout between now and the end of the year.

That explains the “Watch” and “Do” activities.  The “Teach” component comes this fall as Banks puts the instrument to work teaching her Molecular Cell Biology Lab students how to do sequencing and analysis.  Nice.

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Public Health

by gwilson on Feb.28, 2010, under A Day in the Life...

Gram negative rodsThe vision of the Biomedical Science program at McMurry is to teach biology from the perspective of molecules, cells, and human health.  It is often easy to see the emphasis on molecules and cells.  We have courses like Genetics, Microbiology, Human Physiology.  However, we are never far from a discussion of how these elements of biomedical science influence human health and wellness.  To say one does not go without the other would be a fair statement.

I believe our focus on human health really contributes well to understanding the concept of public health.  Public health can be seen in a variety of ways.  Most obvious would be the emphasis on healing the sick or preventing illness.  Our courses focus on these elements as we study how life works, what happens when it doesn’t work well, and how man has contributed to rectifying the problems to restore health.  Less obvious, but no less important, is the need for us to consider exercise and wellness and health policy and administration and education when we consider health and wellness of individuals AND communities.  When expanded in these ways, such things as promoting active lifestyles, dietary awareness, food safety, veterinary health care, and mental health all contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of what constitutes public health.  Limiting ourselves to consideration of DNA and drugs and cells and microbes severely restricts and underestimates the concept of health in all its dimensions.

 McMurry’s BIMS program represents one of the keystones for a comprehensive approach to teaching public health and safety on our campus.  The Department of Kinesiology’s Exercise Science & Human Performance program is an excellent partner, along with the Department of Psychology’s focus on mental health.  Who knows – maybe one day we will borrow from these and other areas of campus to build a bona fide Bachelor’s degree in Public Health!

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