Lab equipment enhances learning biology

Behind the doors of the Center for Natural Sciences, students aren’t just cramming for their next biology exam. They’re also performing important research. 

With state-of-the-art lab equipment, science majors conduct research and learn how to use machinery that will be relevant to their future careers. 

Dr. Jeremiah Winter, a cell biologist and professor at Liberty University, discussed the specific lab equipment that the Liberty biology department has been blessed with. 

Two pieces of equipment that are vital to doing cell culture work, and which are used for a variety of experiments, are the bio safety cabinet and the carbon dioxide incubator. According to Winter, the bio safety cabinet is a “protected environment where you can work with cell culture,” and the carbon dioxide incubator is where cells grow in a specific environment for the experiment. Having a protected environment is important while working with cells so “no contamination from outside can get in,” and “no air from inside can get out.”

Another piece of equipment Liberty has that is used in research and multiple classes, such as genetics, cell biology and molecular techniques, is the ChemiDoc. 

Once DNA has been run through an agarose gel, the ChemiDoc allows you to visualize how much DNA is present. 

“You can run a sample of DNA and compare other samples to it to determine whether there is a match or not,” Winter said. “So you essentially demonstrate what would happen when analyzing samples from a crime scene.”

Similar to the ChemiDoc, but different in its use of florescence, is the LI-COR, which Winter explained “can determine protein amounts and protein modifications based on fluorescence. Both the ChemiDoc and LI-COR instruments are useful in obtaining results looking at protein gels that have been subjected to western blot.”

“In a western blot, you have a primary antibody that binds you, your target and a secondary antibody that binds to the first antibody,” Winter said. “That secondary antibody can have a florescent probe on there so when you stick it into this machine, it can detect based off how much of this probe is lighting up.”

Another machine at Liberty is the RT-PCR Machine. This has become more recognizable in the last few years as it was heavily used for COVID-19. Reverse transcriptase PCR is what they used to identify COVID in patients. The technique involves collecting RNA, adding the enzyme reverse transcriptase to the RNA to make complementary DNA, which can then be amplified. Essentially, the technique can tell you how much RNA is present in a sample, such as an RNA virus like COVID-19.

Alongside the various machines being used in the biology department specifically for cell and genetic classes and research, the biology department also has numerous microscopes. They have all the basic microscopes, but two notable microscopes used are the inverted microscopes and the florescent microscope. 

Unlike the typical microscopes most people used in their high school science class, inverted microscopes have light coming from above the sample rather than below, which allows for easy visualization of cells growing in a flask. Winter explained that fluorescent microscopy is often used to examine samples that are “expressing some information in the cells that contains Green Florescent Protein (GFP).”  

GFP is a common tag used in biological experiments that allows for the visualization of different regions of the cell and different proteins. This lets researchers look at specific regions of the cell when they express GFP.

As expected with the number of resources available to Liberty, many faculty and students conduct research here. Winter is one faculty member working with students on a research project related to COVID-19. 

“We are trying to get different cells to express parts of the COVID virus. When I say parts, I mean completely noninfective,” Winter said. “The question is whether there are potential therapeutics that could be developed. Basically, just insert siRNA (Silencing RNA), and the siRNA causes the viral information to now be double-stranded RNA, which the cell should then recognize and destroy.”  

Science majors and faculty are grateful for the opportunities this lab equipment provides them with.

“It’s been really cool to use the lab equipment and (it’s been) easy to learn to use,” Haley Thorne, a sophomore and zoo biology and wildlife major, said. “In my BIO 225 lab, it helped so much being able to use a dissection microscope when we are dissecting super small organisms like the worm brain. (The lab equipment) has made learning so much easier and actually fun, and I’m grateful to have the opportunity to use it.”

The lab equipment and technology not only provide opportunities to learn but to grow.

“I love watching students work because they do a good job,” Winter said. “They are working hard. To see them be able to take those tools that we have been very blessed by God to be able to have here and be able to know how to use different techniques … it is just a joy to see.”

Auld is a feature reporter for the Liberty Champion

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