BIMS

Tag: green fluorescent protein

July 1 Update

by gwilson on Jul.01, 2009, under A Day in the Life...

bims-lc1We’re entering the mid-summer period where the wind-down from the spring semester collides head-on with the spool-up for the fall semester.  Things are busy on campus.  Here’s a sampling:

  • The first SOAR is over and the second one is next week.  SOARs are events for incoming students to go through orientation and get their class schedules worked out for the fall.  We had 120 students make McMurry their college home a week or so ago.  Over 100 more incoming freshmen are scheduled to be on campus next week.  They are the smart ones, as waiting for the third SOAR or to register at the beginning of the semester means risking closed classes and schedule conflicts.  I mentioned in a comment that roughly 10% of students at the first SOAR signed up for the initial BIMS course.  Looks like it will be a great start for Year Two of BIMS.
  • Summer research is well underway.  Dr. Paul Pyenta has been working with a Welch Summer Research student to clone gfp protein into a plasmid compatible with Bacillus thuringiensis.  They’ve been using the new centrifuge mentioned in a recent post, but found the need to spin 250 ml bottles at a high speed than is possible with the swinging bucket rotor we got with it.  Another centrifuge and modified procedure will have to suffice until we can purchase another rotor more suitable to the speeds required by the original protocol.
  • Dr. Pyenta ordered a new digital gel documentation system today that will allow clear photography of gels for publication and presentation.  This is a valuable piece of equipment for helping students build their biological portfolios – artifacts from their hands-on lab work will be collected and saved to document their proficiency.
  • Dr. Tom Benoit taught Microbiology in Summer 1 and now is working on a proposal for the lab renovation competition McMurry will hold in August.  Science faculty were encouraged to propose innovative spaces for teaching and research for the competition, which will see the winning entry adopted to guide a lab renovation project to take place in Summer 2010.  Two labs and support spaces will be renovated to provide a model of future spaces to be seen in the Finch-Gray Science Center.  BIMS intends to have the best proposal for consideration.
  • Dr. Heidi DiFrancesca has spent time this summer traveling.  No word yet whether she will join her husband Mark on a trip to Japan on behalf of their church.  One additional task Dr. D will accomplish this summer is purchase of the next important pieces of teaching/research equipment:  real-time PCR, Nanodrop spectrophotometer, new tissue culture hoods, and more.
  • Dr. Larry Sharp has been busy overseeing applications to health professions schools – medical and dental, mainly.  He us also teaching both A&P I and II this summer, all while designing the new Pre-Health Professions Seminar series to be taken by our pre-health students.
  • Dr. Gary Wilson has been juggling administrative duties with an overhaul of his microbiology course and some development work for his software package VirtualUnknown(TM) Microbiology.  A new totally online version of the software is in development.
  • BIMS faculty plan to hold a retreat this summer to assess what worked this year and what needs “tweaking” as the BIMS program enters its second year.  One item for discussion is how we can intentionally link courses together through common projects so that we work together in research as our students learn.  We got a great start on that this year, but more can be done.

No doubt, it is a busy summer in Abilene!

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The First BIMS Outstanding Students Named

by gwilson on May.03, 2009, under Students

cc-ep-school-quicksand-036Late in the spring semester, McMurry holds its annual Academic Awards Luncheon to honor the top students in each academic and athletic program.  That luncheon was held today, and it marked the first occasion to name the top BIMS majors.

With such a new program, there are only a dozen or so BIMS majors.  They fall into two categories – those who entered the program this fall as freshmen, and those who have transferred into the program from other majors.  For this reason, only two students were recognized.  The Outstanding Freshman Biomedical Science Major for 2008-2009 is Jonathan Urbanczyk from Abilene.  Lauren Bump (a sophomore in years but a junior in hours) was named the Outstanding Junior Biomedical Science Major.  She hails from San Antonio.  Both students have distinguished themselves in a variety of ways and are outstanding representatives of the program.  We’re proud of them both.  They represent a truly exceptional group of students who claim Biomedical Science as their major – every one is a joy in the classroom and has a promising future ahead.

bt-plasmid-bandAlso at the Academic Awards Luncheon, the winners of the Third Annual Student Poster Competition were named.  Twenty four posters explaining student research were submitted by individuals and groups from Biology, Biochemistry, Psychology, Sociology, Political Science, Business, and Physics.  The top award for an individual poster went to Matt Durham for his project entitled “The Design and Construction of a Plasmid Vector for Encoding Green Fluorescent Protein that is Compatible with Bacillus thuringiensis.”  The project was guided by BIMS faculty member Dr. Paul Pyenta in Chemistry & Biochemistry.  Matt took up the project begun years ago by another student and made great strides to express gfp in Bt cells.  The work is in support of an interdisciplinary project that will study the ecology of Bt spores through the use of the genetically-modified, gfp-expressing strain Matt has engineered. 

staph-bacitracin-mannito1Second place in the group project category went to Dustin Mance, Laura Salas, and Julie Halverson for their project entitled “The Inhibition of Mannitol Use of Gram Positive Bacteria by Bacitracin”.  This project was completed in their BIOL 3410 Microbiology course, where the lab skills and knowledge are learned through student involvement in research projects.  One of the early projects all students participated in was the isolation and identification of bacteria from nature.  As groups, students then studied the antiseptic/disinfectant- and antibiotic-resistance of their bacteria.  This group tested their Gram positive cocci’s antibiotic resistance using mannitol salt agar, and an interesting anomaly was seen with Julie’s Staphylococcus aureus.  The bacteria turned the normally red plate yellow (as expected) everywhere except in the vicinity of the bacitracin antibiotic disk.  Their final poster project was to study this phenomenon further.  Obviously, their work impressed the judges.

Our congratulations to each of these students for a job well done.  Can’t wait to see what Fall 2009 has in store for us!

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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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