Tag: genetic engineering
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!
Here are some things that are happening in the BIMS program this summer.
1. BIMS 1300. Introduction to Scientific Research is the first BIMS course taken by freshmen. It is an introduction to thinking about science in a different way – science as a process to engage in, not a bunch of facts to memorize. Dr. Tom Benoit is busy this summer adjusting its approach based on last year’s initial version to make it even more successful. The seminar portion will be completely re-done to expose students to what’s new in biomedical sciences around the world.
2. BIOL 1301. Unicellular Organisms is Dr. Benoit’s other course this fall. The course is so unique that finding an appropriate textbook is difficult. Expect the course to adjust its approach slightly to focus more on how cells work in order to emphasize what’s common to unicellular organisms, rather than on differences between various species.
3. BIOL 3410. Dr. Wilson is completely re-doing Microbiology this summer. The lecture will be aligned more closely with the textbook to help students study for exams, and the lab will feature 4-5 research projects within which all skills and knowledge for the lab portion of the course will be taught. Two projects will be a survey of fresh foods for the presence of coliforms and a survey of McMurry students for the presence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
4. BIOL 3460. Genetics will jump into high gear this year as Dr. Heidi DiFrancesca begins to orient students to the use of molecular biology technology at our disposal. Expect use of the DNA sequencer and rt-PCR in the lab.
5. BIMS 4320 and BIMS 4250. Junior and senior level BIMS courses will benefit from new equipment to support student research projects, and from a year of maturity in the program. Dr. D had students get the lab going last year and took baby steps in bringing it up to full capacity. This year we’ll hit the ground running.
6. BIMS 4201. The capstone course has been restructured to allow students to sign up with a BIMS faculty member to work on a project in their area of expertise. We can expect a wider variety of research projects this year as students join the research in their areas of interest. Cancer research, genetic engineering, bacterial spore physiology, and public health should all be represented by the end of the year.
The BIMS faculty will hold a retreat this summer to focus and connect our efforts. More updates will be coming on other aspects of BIMS improvements made this summer.