BIMS

Tag: heidi difrancesca

Better Living Through Cloning

by gwilson on Nov.04, 2009, under Projects

Dr. D

Dr. D

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.

Bt spores and bipyramidal crystals (source of the delta-endotoxin)

Bt spores and bipyramidal crystals (source of the delta-endotoxin)

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!

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Substitute Teacher

by gwilson on Oct.12, 2009, under A Day in the Life...

Chili the Wonder DogToday was one of those days where you are drawn in a million different directions, and yet somehow manage to get it all done.  I’ve had this date circled on my calendar for weeks, as I agreed to step in and cover Dr. D’s classes while she was at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in San Diego.  Had it only been that simple!

Sure, I was prepared for the lab this afternoon.  I should have been after Friday’s meeting with Heidi and her lab assistant Amanda, getting all the prep work done Saturday, and all my worrying yesterday.  The plan was simple.  Heidi and Amanda led the students in the Molecular Cell Biology lab through initial phases of a cloning project.  All that remained today was purification of their PCR product, and then my part - helping them get their bacterial cultures going for the ligation and transformation steps to be done next Monday.  I got the media made for them this weekend and rehydrated their strains today.  Heidi gave me a last minute call from the San Diego airport to ask if everything was fine – yes, we’re good to go.   Kinda reminded me of mom checking in to see how the babysitter was doing!  :-)   The students did their work without incident and all work was completed ahead of schedule.

So what’s the big deal, you might ask?  In the midst of it all, I had a report to generate for a state agency’s visit to campus, a prospective student and her family to speak with, several loose ends to attend to for my own class (related to the E. coli in vegetables project and the MRSA study), a SNCS meeting to plan for Thursday, preparations to follow up on for Homecoming this weekend, AND my dog needed a trip to the vet for a skin infection.  I’ve never been known as being much of a multi-tasker, instead reminding folks of M.A.S.H.’s Colonel Winchester who famously said, “I do one thing, I do it well, and then I move on.”  I find it hard to give my best effort when my mind is split among several needs.

The outcome?  I managed to get everything done and get home early enough to empty my tail light of water (did I mention its been raining?).  The student and her family were delightful, class preparation was easier than anticipated, planning for later in the week went very well, and I managed to get my faculty moving in the right general direction expected on their state agency report.  My dog?  Chili is now on antibiotic therapy.

Bottom line?  We can do more than we think we can.  Time spent helping a friend is never wasted.  Everything got done without a panic, without anyone getting yelled at, without sacrificing one thing for another.  I got to spend a fun afternoon with bright and talented college students, and you just can’t beat that.  Maybe I’ll have to substitute more often!

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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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