We had another BUSY week in Biomedical Science courses.
- Freshman-level BIMS 1300 Intro to Scientific Research students learned how to use their Tablet PCs to gather data from a “Brain Test” all students took (determined analytical vs. creative, auditory vs. visual) and calculate standard error of the mean, as well as linear regression analysis of data sets. In the lab, students finished up their observation projects that will be presented in the coming week.
- The new microbiology course for allied health majors, BIOL 3403 Fundamentals of Microbiology participated in a webinar hosted by McMurry alumna Mary Lynn Smith (’83) on biofilms in healthcare. This was an example of how experts and professionals a thousand miles away can contribute to our students’ education.
- In BIOL 3410 Microbiology, students finished the identification of Gram positive bacteria found in their cars. They are working on research posters describing their studies and will turn those in next week. In short, they took samples from the HVAC and interior surfaces of their cars, isolated and purified bacteria, and pursued identifications of the Gram positive cocci found using conventional tests and the BD-BBL Crystal(TM) Rapid ID panels. Follow-up tests included testing for oxacillin-resistance, an indicator of community-borne MRSA.
- In BIMS 4391 Advanced Microbiology, students moved forward in their development of antibiotic-producing bacteria. They completed the identification of their endospore-formers using microscopy, conventional tests, and BD-BBL Crystal(TM) Rapid ID panels. Then, they grew their bacterium in batch culture, removed the cells and spores by centrifugation and filtration, and challenged six microbes (two Gram negative rods, two Gram positive cocci, two yeasts) with the filtrate in disk diffusion tests. Those antibiotic producers with the most promise will be grown in our new benchtop fermenters and their products characterized by chemical, physical, and physiological means to learn more.
- In our BIMS 4201 Capstone Research class, senior students began cultivating the Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain genetically-modified with human estrogen receptor as a prelude to the use of the YES assay for monitoring the presence of estrogen-mimics in the environment.
All this may sound way beyond the reach of normal college students in normal college classes. Not so! We find that students are more engaged in learning techniques and information when there’s a reason or goal – a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow! It is at the heart of the skills-laden, research-rich approach taken in teaching BIMS courses.
This week, Dr. Heidi DiFrancesca’s Genetics students are testing foods for the presence of foreign DNA to determine whether they are “all natural” or have been genetically engineered. Genetically-modified foods (GMFs) include those that contain corn or other plant products that have been improved through introduction of genes from other species. Presence of such foreign genes in foodstuffs is detected using the same tools that allow federal agencies to see whether the plant’s genome has been modified genetically - molecular methods for cloning and DNA manipulation.
One frequently-encountered genetically-modified crop is corn, where the delta-endotoxin gene from Bacillus thuringiensis is introduced to the genome to enable the plant’s production of the toxin to kill a variety of insects that can ruin the crop. The toxin is harmless to people and other vertebrates – in fact, it is harmless to all but a small collection of insect pests. We could eat the toxin by the handful without effect, but for those susceptible insects one bite means certain death. You may recall the uproar in recent years over GMO/GMF (genetically-modified organisms/genetically-modified foods) and the European bans that resulted, or the threat to monarch butterfly populations some believed to be posed by fields of genetically-modified plants expressing the toxin. The methods and materials to be used in Dr. D’s class were developed by industry to allow for screening of foods for presence of the delta-endotoxin gene.
Students will take common foodstuffs containing corn – perhaps corn chips, perhaps corn tortillas (this is Texas, after all!) – and extract the DNA contained within. Then, using molecular probes for the delta-endotoxin gene sequence they will look for its presence in the DNA recovered. More likely than not, someone’s corn-based product will have the target sequence because it has been genetically modified to improve yield.
Bottom line is our students are learning valuable skills that are used by industry professionals to address real-world concerns. Not a bad week’s work for McMurry’s biomedical science students!