Tag: molecular biology
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!
Several years ago, Dr. Russell laid out his vision for McMurry’s future in a speech entitled Vision 2023 . Central to that vision was an emphasis on growth of the sciences and their importance in preparing our graduates for jobs of the future. Biology responded to the challenge of building new and relevant programs for life sciences by developing three new, more focused programs. One of these is the BIMS program.
At the same time, the McMurry Capital Campaign, Shaping the Future, has a focus on supporting spaces for the sciences. These two developments led to a competition on campus this fall where programs were challenged with proposing new spaces to fit their new programs and help make their delivery more effective and efficient. Thought was that an invitation to develop a variety of science building proposals would provide a excellent collection of projects that could be shopped to potential donors to help improve all science programs. Biology submitted two lab renovation proposals, one of which was heavily geared toward improving spaces for BIMS courses.
The BIMS proposal calls for several improvements, including renovating and expanding spaces now used for teaching molecular biology and microbiology courses. The current spaces, S115 and S102, are home to labs (and sometimes lectures) for Genetics, Molecular Biology, Advanced Bioscience Techniques, Unicellular Organisms, Intro to Scientific Research, Microbiology, Immunology, and Senior Capstone Research. Obviously, such heavily used spaces are unusual on any campus and thus pose challenges to effective and efficient delivery, especially in a research-oriented approach to teaching. Renovating these spaces to better meet the needs of all students in these various courses is a challenge worthy of lab renovation.
In the competition, a Physics proposal and the BIMS proposal were chosen for funding. The Trustees meet this weekend and hopes are they will approve expenditure of $2.5M from the Capital Campaign to fund the renovation projects. If so, planningand design will begin immediately and the renovation will start in May to be completed before the Fall 2010 semester.
Here is what the BIMS proposal consists of: more flexible spaces that will support both lecture and lab, anterooms for equipment and incubation and project setup so students can work on their projects outside of their normal hours without interefering with other classes using the teaching spaces, a common equipment area for major pieces of equipment that might be used by students in either lab, special spaces for working with RNA and tissue culture, and possibly additional offices and student space for study, group work, and “hanging out”. Our hope is our students will become citizens of the building and not simply tourists, that thinking and acting like scientists will give all our BIMS graduates a leg up on those who have gone through conventional and impersonal science programs.
Although the BIMS program is too new to have any graduates, there are MANY McMurry Biology graduates who have gone to graduate and professional programs aligned with biomedical science. Each summer, I send out an update on what’s happening at McMurry to my former students. I always ask them to “check in” and let me know what they are doing. Here’s some of the responses I got this summer.
- Dr. Andrew Hockert completed his doctorate in Cell Biology & Biochemistry at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (TTUHSC-GSBS) and now is teaching molecular biology and biochemistry at Cumberland University.
- Dr. Abby Crume received her D.O. from UNT-TCOM and is in a surgical residency in Maine.
- Dr. Gena Jester Nichols completed her doctorate in Immunology from Wake Forest and is in a post-doctoral position at Tulane.
- Kira Chumbley completed her masters in Medical Microbiology from TTUHSC-GSBS and works as a Senior Research Technician the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, and teaches microbiology at a community college for fun.
- Dr. Yancey Natividad completed his Doctor of Pharmacy degree at UNM.
- Sheena Banks continues in the PhD program in Immunology at UTMB, where operations were severely interrupted by Hurricane Ike last fall.
- Jessica Crawford is a third year medical student at UTMB.
- Dr. Cari Roark Sloma, who completed her degree in Medical Immunology from Mayo Graduate School of Biomedical Science is now on the faculty at Ross University School of Medicine on the island of Dominica.
- Stephanie Coffey is in her fourth year at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M.
- Dr. Asha Kurian is an internal medicine resident/endocrinology resident in Arizona.
- Dr. Clipper Strickland has returned to Abilene to establish is practice after graduating from UH-College of Optometry.
- Dr. Kendra DeBerry has graduated from UPenn School of Optometry and is practicing in Ft. Worth.
- Drew Hillhouse should be nearing completion of his PhD in Medical Microbiology from UMizzou-Columbia.
- Dr. Stacy Beaty completed his MD at UT-Houston School of Medicine and has joined the Shannon Clinic in San Angelo.
- Dr. Sam Nixon completed his DPT degree from Hardin-Simmons and is in private practice.
These are just a sampling of the reports we get from our students. Each is a success story. Each is a student who came to McMurry with dreams and worked hard to make those dreams come true. I hope the incoming freshmen this fall will be featured in a report like this 5, 6, or 7 years from now.