Tag: Tom Benoit

2014 Was a Very Good Year!

by gwilson on Dec.29, 2014, under A Day in the Life...

nicole graduationAs we close out 2014, I thought it would be an appropriate time to look at the events from late in the year that demonstrate some of the accomplishments of the BIMS program.

1. Nicole McGunegle (middle left, with our Dean Alicia Wyatt and human biology professor Dr. Larry Sharp) became the sixth BIMS majors to complete Honors thesis research this year.  Her work was on heat resistance of wild type and genetically-modified spore-forming bacteria.  She was one of four Biology Department graduates in December, the others being Kelly Croci, Shayna Hoag, and Collin Valdez.  All four are pursuing advanced graduate or professional school programs (Medical School, Physician Assistant school, Optometry School, Nutrition and Dietetics graduate program).

2.  There was an official announcement that the Department of Biology was the recipient of a 160-acre tract of land in Callahan County that will serve as a field research station.  The donor is Bill Libby, long-time professor of history and religion and the founder of the Cross-Country program at McMurry.  The field station will be called Firebase Libby, in recognition of Bill’s time spent as a chaplain with the 101st Airborne in Viet Nam.  Every facet of McMurry’s biology and biomedical science programs has identified ways in which this valuable asset can be used for research and student projects.  More here:

3. On the research front, Dr. Tom Benoit received notification in December of the acceptance of an article written for the Journal of Microbiology and Biology Education.  It details the use of diatomaceous earth in construction of Winogradsky columns for study of microbial ecology and mineral cycling in biological systems.  Three professors also received good news about funding for research during the Christmas break:  Dr. Anna Saghatelyan is partnering with Dr. Hyun-shun Shin of Chemistry on a project to identify new antimicrobials from area plants.  They will receive funding from the Sam Taylor Foundation.  This work includes the Honors Research of Kara Black, which was presented at the regional ACS conference this fall.  More here:  And Drs. Dana Lee and T.J. Boyle both were notified of their receipt of KIVA grants for next year, funding for research on the genomics of bats and the distribution of crabs in lakes of west Texas.

4. And most exciting has been the resurgence of the Biology Club and Tri-Beta, under the capable leadership of Drs. Boyle and Lee.  First came a very successful “Pie a Professor” fundraiser ( that provided the funding to begin an effort to greatly expand the recycling efforts on campus (  This is only the beginning of growth and contribution to the campus and community from the Biology and Biomedical Science students at McMurry.

5.  Finally, as the year ends we find a new beginning on the horizon for the Department of Biology.  Extensive revisions to the BS Biology, BS Biomedical Science, and BS Life Sciences degrees are coming!  New courses and a roadmap for the program changes are in the final stages of approval, and incoming students for the Fall 2015 semester will benefit from the tweaks being made.  A common biology core of 16 hours, including a junior seminar course to explore careers and prepare for entrance exam tests for graduate and professional programs, will be taken by all students.  We expect great things to come from these data-driven improvements!

So, from all of us at McMurry, we hope 2014 was equally productive and gratifying.  And we hope all of us will experience an even better 2015!

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Dr. Benoit’s “Joy of Pet Ownership”

by gwilson on Oct.18, 2013, under Projects

2013-10-18_15-43-07_756 Each year when Dr. Benoit teaches our freshman BIMS course on Unicellular Organisms, students leave with more than just knowledge and a grade….they take with them a pet.

In BIMS 1101 Unicellular Organisms Lab, Dr. Benoit takes students through an amazing tour of the unseen world, one filled with bacteria and protozoa and algae and yeast.  The course teaches basic cell biology and the diversity that exists among the smallest forms of life.  As a way of demonstrating the metabolic diversity of bacteria, all students create Winogradsky columns by filling Falcon flasks with diatomaceous earth, a variety of chemicals, and some water drawn from pond sludge (see photo).  These are the students’ pets, cared for and tended to by the students.  Dr. B encourages students to drop by the lab regularly to visit their pets and to enjoy their journey to maturation.  At the end of the semester, students are free to take them home where they can continue to mature and change for many years.

The preparation begins white usually, but chemical changes caused by a variety of bacterial turn the many minerals present into a technicolor show.  A good balance of chemicals and diversity of bacteria can result in reds and greens and blacks and yellows and purples as one species of bacteria after another transforms the minerals into colorful compounds.  It is the microbial equivalent of a garden filled with diverse plants.

As educational as the Winogradsky column is, the fun take on the project by Dr. Benoit demonstrates an important component of science at McMurry – if it isn’t fun, something is wrong!

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Oil Spills – There’s an App for That!

by gwilson on May.20, 2010, under A Day in the Life...

bp oilspillThe horrible disaster in the Gulf of Mexico caused by the explosion and sinking of the BP oil platform is all over the news.  Devastation to the landscape and wildlife all along the Gulf Coast is sure to be a topic of discussion for months and years to come. Lawsuits will be in the headlines, and government finger-pointing is going to part of coming elections.   How could such a thing happen?  How can such pervasive damage be repaired?

News videos for the past two weeks have shown use of booms, human hair, and chemical dispersants to try to minimize the amount of oil reaching shore.  However, little has been said about the use of microbes to help digest the oil and remove it from the water and shoreline.  One amazing fact about microbes is that when it comes to the versatility of their metabolism and their physiological capabilities, there are few organic chemicals that one or another critter can’t break down.  Oil included.  For example, the Exxon Valdez mess was cleaned up in part using oil-eating bacteria.

You might say – “Getting rid of oil coating the shoreline and contaminating the environment?  There’s an app for that!”

bacteria - micrograph taken by McM studentsBoth of McMurry’s microbiologists, Drs. Tom Benoit and Gary Wilson, have experience in the use of microbes to remove oil and other hydrocarbons from contaminated soil and water.  Benoit has extensive involvement in reducing hydrocarbon contaminants from water.  In fact, he helped design a facility for the City of Nacogdoches (TX) that removes such pollutants from wastewater entering its sewage treatment facility.  It uses microbes to destroy harmful chemicals that would choke the sewage treatment plant and slow return of treated wastewater to the environment.  Wilson worked with a local electricity provider to help reduce the hydrocarbon counts in contaminated soil by more than 90% to significantly reduce the cost of disposal.  In both instances, encouraging the growth of harmless microbes that devour oil and other organic compounds in the water and soil helped protect the environment.  Chances are, students in BIMS courses this fall will find themselves doing research to try to maximize the effectiveness of similar organisms in eliminating crude oil-based pollution.

You may not be able to download the magic microbes as an app for your iPhone, but microbiology provides an answer to some of life’s trickiest problems.

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