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Lyon biology department gains grants, new tool

When Dr. Alexander Beeser and Dr. Mary Bossus joined Lyon’s faculty in the fall of 2016, they had big plans for research projects, and they wanted students to benefit from the more modern technology that these projects required. Dr. Bossus explained that the machine they had in mind would “complement” Lyon’s already existing set of equipment, removing some limitations on what students could observe about the DNA and protein samples they studied in class.

According to Dr. Beeser, the two professors set out to “bring modern molecular biology technology to Lyon” through the Li-Cor Odyssey Fc imaging system, but the new imaging machine proved to be costly. They sought to raise money for the system through grants, starting with a proposal to Li-COR, the company that makes the machine, that would lower the cost of the device by 40%. To cover the remaining cost, the two professors wrote a grant to INBRE, the Arkansas IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, which aims to more widely distribute funding for biomedical and behavioral research. When INBRE awarded a grant to Lyon, the College’s provost’s office agreed to pay any remaining fees. What would have been a $47,000 investment ended up costing Lyon less than $7,000.

The new machine replaces Lyon’s EOL imaging system and supports various classes. To study things like DNA and different proteins, students must treat cells with a dye that will adhere to DNA. Then they separate the DNA and proteins of a cell in a process called gel electrophoresis. In the past, Lyon students have studied the separated samples from pictures they took themselves, but now the Li-Cor Odyssey Fc Imaging System photographs those samples, providing easier, more precise information than Lyon has ever had before.

Installed in the Derby Science Building on August 16, the system looks like just a black box, but it has features that make for even more efficient and accurate research results. According to LiCOR’s site, the system features no need for UV light, which can be harmful to the eyes, and disposable imaging trays that prevent contamination. Importantly, the system is sensitive enough to pick up extremely small traces of certain proteins in cells. Even with a complex sample of a cell, the system can highlight miniscule proteins that set apart things like cancer cells and normal cells—all of this in one black box perched on a lab table. Beeser speaks true when he says, “It looks like a big toaster, but it does some pretty remarkable things.”

Posted by Emily Riley at 9:51 AM