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22 July 2005

Biology Dept. Gains $100,000 for Genetic Analysis System

By Dave Howell
News Bureau

Jacksonville State University's biology department recently gained a $100,000 grant for a state-of-the art genomic research system that professors say will aid students and faculty in conducting several types of research including clinical drug development.

Beckman Coulter, Inc., a manufacturer of biomedical testing instrument systems and supplies, awarded JSU $49,450 as part of its largest type of matching grant. The university provided the other matching half.

The funds will be used toward purchasing a GenomeLab CEQ™ 8000 Genetic Analysis System, an instrument designed to assist essential biomedical research aimed at improving healthcare and the field of medicine around the world.

According to Dr. Mark A. Meade, assistant professor of biology, JSU was one of the first schools to be offered the full matching grant.

“The company usually only matches about a quarter or so of the funds. We are one out of maybe a half dozen schools which were fully funded in recent years,” he said.

"The decision was based on the fact that our undergraduate program here at JSU focuses on research and because we have a strong master’s research program that emphasizes molecular techniques and molecular protocols."

The GenomeLab CEQ™ 8000 is a complete unit, which can be incorporated into classes immediately. It can perform a range of research functions and be applied to multiple projects such as DNA sequencing.

“This is the type of equipment you would expect to find in a pharmaceutical research company or any kind of group that’s doing genomic research,” Meade said. “It’s a turnkey genetic analysis system which is really self-automated and user friendly.”

Biology department professors will be prioritizing the use of the equipment for teaching students who want to be researchers in the field of genomics, microbiology, cancer research, or who work toward making other medical discoveries.

“This sets us above most colleges our size,” said Dr. Frank Romano, biology department head. “Most schools don’t have this kind of equipment. It will certainly advance our capabilities in the area of genomic research and allow us to perform studies we’ve never been able to do in the past.”

Said Mead, “All of us that teach [biology] courses here have an application for this equipment. It’s going to be widely used in our classes.”

Meade, along with several of his colleagues, Drs. Benjamin Blair, LaJoyce Debro, and Mijitaba Hamissou, helped write the grant application to secure the funding and will be using the instrument in their programs as well.

One such project involves studying red snappers, whose populations are rapidly declining. The red snapper is one the most popular sport and commercial fish in Alabama’s Gulf Coast waters. Concerns about declining snapper populations first surfaced more than 20 years ago. Students and faculty from JSU are collaborating with Dr. Ron Phelps of Auburn University to improve culture of these fish. They will use the GenomeLab to isolate and study the bacterial flora in the red snapper gut, which Meade says may be playing a role in the decline of the fishes’ population.

“This will really strengthen our research and push our programs to a whole new level,” he said.

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