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Calvin Gets Grant for DNA Sequencer
September 12, 2007

A $49,500 educational matching grant from Beckman-Coulter, Inc. will allow the biology department at Calvin College to purchase a capillary electrophoresis DNA sequencer.

The state-of-the-art DNA sequencer, which replaces a 10-year old model, will give Calvin’s biology and biotechnology programs increased technological oomph for performing research.

“We have a whole family of equipment that allows us to study and manipulate DNA, and this sequencer will be the star of that collection,” said Calvin biology professor David DeHeer. “The very best way to understand organisms these days is by their DNA, and we’re giving students chances to do that.”

Deoxyribonucleic acid or DNA, which contains genetic instructions unique to each individual, forms a ladder of paired nucleotides or bases: A, C, G and T.

A DNA sequencer allows a researcher to “read” a section of the DNA chain, determining the sequence of the base pairs.

The new sequencer, a Beckman Coulter CEQ 8800 Genetic Analysis System, passes the DNA through a long, thin gel in a tube or “capillary” via an electrical charge, while the old sequencer passed DNA through a slab gel.

“The technology of DNA sequencing is getting better and better, and the big labs that are researching whole genomes, like the human genome, are using capillary gel equipment,” DeHeer said of the CEQ 8800. “It’s faster than the old technology, and it permits us to perform more types of analyses than the old instrument, things like DNA fingerprinting, mutation analyses and analysis of microsatellite instability.”

The Calvin biology and biotechnology programs will be exercising the new machine’s capabilities with a whole array of research projects.

Biology professor Arlene Hoogewerf, who researches the bacterial formation of biolfilms, plans to use the sequencer to identify genes in bacteria that would make that particular bacteria resist a human’s immune function.

The sequencer will also be used in a general microbiology class to identify novel bacteria that students have isolated from the environment.

“I’ve had students take the bacteria off pickles that were sitting out at Johnny’s and the bacteria found in the water of the swimsuit extractor,” said Hoogewerf.

DeHeer plans to use the sequencer in a forensics class he teaches during the January Interim and the new equipment will also be used to determine the parentage of plants -- specifically a hybrid species of poplars.

The CEQ 8800 will offer Calvin biology and biotechnology majors many chances to sharpen the skills that are necessary for a successful research career, said DeHeer, whether in a research or forensics lab or in graduate school.

“When we started our biotech program back in 2000, we had what was then considered contemporary equipment," he said. "Now we’re outfitting our lab with the next generation of equipment. What’s amazing to me is that technology is changing that rapidly in this field. In many courses, we change textbooks every two years, and the technology has to keep up with that.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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