|The magazine of University of Houston-Clear Lake
spring 2012 | volume 18 | number 2
Analyzing the Invisible
UHCL'S Biotechnology and Genomics Research Facility not only received a facelift over winter break, but also a new piece of equipment vital to School of Science and Computer Engineering students and faculty. Used for DNA sequencing and genetic analysis, the new analyzer significant to today's biological research as well as an important diagnostic tool.
The Applied Biosystems 3500xL 24-capillary Genetic Analyzer provides hands-on laboratory research training—a crucial skill for careers in biomedical, agricultural and environmental sciences.
Purchased with grant funds from the National Science Foundation, the analyzer serves as "a stepping stone" for the fast-growing program from the viewpoint of Associate Professor of Biology and Biotechnology and Program Chair Larry Rohde.
"This new equipment sets the stage for future collaborations," says Rohde, who is principal investigator for the grant, which runs through Aug. 31, 2014. "We must demonstrate that we are able to do the research and that we have the facilities to do what we say we will—that we are a serious research facility."
At least eight faculty members will use the analyzer for their current and future research.
The National Science Foundation awarded $203,660 for the equipment. More efficient and more automated than UHCL's prior machine, the new analyzer saves time, is cost effective and includes a workstation computer with Microsoft Windows and DNA sequencing analysis software.
Housed in the newly renovated research area, the analyzer is conveniently located near the biology and biotechnology teaching labs, the plant tissue and culture labs, and other faculty research labs.
Co-principal investigators for the grant are Professor of Biology and Chemistry Ron Mills, Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Sanghoon Kang and Assistant Professors of Biology and Biotechnology Brian Stephens and Lory Santiago-Vázquez.
Rohde will use the analyzer for teaching purposes and for researching tick control technology for the USDA Cattle Fever Tick Eradication Program as part of an ongoing attempt to control Texas Cattle Fever, a devastating disease that has affected the cattle industry since 1868.
Working collaboratively with internationally renowned Research Physiologist Felix Guerrero of the United States Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service, Rohde's research will help determine the functions of resistant genes in an effort to eradicate the pesticide-resistant tick.
Stephens, whose research training and experience is in plant physiology and genomics, is currently researching molecular mechanisms involved in maintenance of zinc homeostasis in plants.
"The analyzer machine allows students to understand the processes of DNA sequencing and genetics analysis," says Stephens. "With 12 to 15 students in lab classes, there are more opportunities to do hands-on research and undergraduate students get into the lab much faster, since most universities must send samples to a University Core Facility or an independent lab and wait for results."
Building a library of genetic sequences to help understand and protect soft corals, a potential source of new drugs, Santiago-Vázquez and her students will use the analyzer for DNA sequencing.
"We have thousands of genetic sequences to analyze and the cost of sending it to a sequencing facility would be too high," Santiago- Vázquez says.
Pursuing a Master of Science in Biotechnology, with a specialization in molecular biology, Giridhar Prasad Jangly plans to graduate from UHCL in May 2013. Currently working on his thesis, Jangly will use the analyzer for his own research on the molecular mechanisms of environmental stress on soft coral.
"With the DNA analyzer, the quality of the data will increase and the total cost per template will be reduced considerably," says Jangly. "The other advantage is that more templates can be run each day at the same time. Our work deals with making natural products from taxonomically similar bacteria and this work requires a lot of gene expression and taxonomical identification studies."
One UHCL alumna who understands the value of learning to operate DNA analyzer machines is Micaela Morgado, a 2007 Master of Science in Biotechnology graduate.
"Having a sequencer in the lab saved me a lot of time and provided me with almost immediate results," says Morgado, who trained on an older DNA analyzer than the one added this year.
"Knowing how to use the sequencer as well as other skills helped me be competitive to apply for a position in the biotechnology field."
Those skills will enable Morgado to fulfill her dream of a career in biological science.
"I hope I can provide a contribution to this field with my current research," says Morgado, now a second-year graduate student in the Molecular and Cell Biology Department at Rice University.
Though the analyzer itself is a small piece of equipment, the impact it will have on UHCL students and faculty in regard to research and experience will be monumental. Reaching far beyond the classroom, those using the DNA analyzer here will have opportunities to make discoveries that could change the world.
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