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Gilkerson receives $30k grant to purchase scientific equipment

ISSUED: 1 June 2017
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Students and professors in Shepherd University’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics now have access to a piece of equipment that will take research to the next level. Shepherd received a $30,095 grant from the West Virginia IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence to purchase a Bio-Rad CFX384 Real-Time PCR Detection System.

Dr. Jonathan Gilkerson, assistant professor of biology, said the machine offers the opportunity to use the latest technology for a variety of research projects.

“PCR is used in all sorts of biotechnological applications—forensics, genetics, medicine, and basic biological research,” Gilkerson said. “It’s a thermocycler, which means it cycles through different temperatures. That’s important for amplifying DNA molecules by the polymerase chain reaction. Basically you can put in a piece of template DNA, a very small amount, and through these temperature cycles amplify the piece of DNA that you’re interested in.”

Gilkerson said he’s using quantitative PCR to study gene expression, the process by which cells use information encoded in genes to direct the synthesis of proteins via an RNA intermediate. What genes are expressed determines an organism’s traits. Quantitative PCR measures the abundance of the RNA intermediate as way to assess if a particular gene is turned on or off under different conditions. Other faculty at Shepherd will use the machine for various types of genetic research they are conducting and students will use it in classes as well.

“Anyone who graduates from a biology program would be expected to be proficient in a technique like this,” Gilkerson said. “I teach cell biology and molecular biology, so I’m going to incorporate the quantitative PCR into those classes.”

In his grant application, Gilkerson says students must be trained in and exposed to the latest technology to be competitive in the job market and to attend graduate school. The PCR will give them that opportunity. He estimates about 10 undergraduates each year will use the PCR extensively for their experiential learning research projects and up to 125 students a year will use the instrument for classes.

Shepherd has an older machine that can measure 48 DNA samples at one time. The new PCR can measure 348, greatly expanding the amount of research that can be done at one time.

“It’s a pretty powerful system,” Gilkerson said. “In addition to measuring gene expression it can detect sequence differences in DNA. You can use it to genotype individuals, and that’s a new application people are using instruments like this for.”

Listen to the interview HERE.

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