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Plautz, Warburton receive $20K equipment grant

ISSUED: 6 February 2017
MEDIA CONTACT: Valerie Owens

SHEPHERDSTOWN, WV — Scientific research at Shepherd University just received a big boost with the acquisition of a Life Technologies EVOS FL Cell Imaging System fluorescence microscope.

Dr. Carol Plautz, associate professor of biology, and Dr. Robert Warburton, professor of biochemistry, received a $20,000 state-funded Research Challenge Fund grant through the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission to help purchase the microscope. Shepherd’s School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and the Shepherd University Research Corporation contributed the remaining money needed to buy the $28,000 instrument.

Plautz said the microscope can do so much more than an older, larger one they’ve been using for class instruction and research.

“It really has a lot of features that are amenable to being in a small, multipurpose space like we have,” Plautz said. “It’s wonderful for teaching. For research it just has a lot more capability than any scope that we’ve had.”

The older microscope requires making the room dark and it allows only one student at a time to view cell samples. With the new microscope, the lights in the room can be on, it has a digital touch screen, and it can be hooked up to a projector allowing an entire class to see what’s going on.

Professors and students who use the microscope add florescent dye to cell samples to highlight various genes that are then illuminated by LED lights to show changes in the cell structures.

“It’s a research-grade instrument,” Warburton said. “Hopefully students can take that knowledge base with them when they go on to grad school.”

Warburton and Plautz are looking forward to using the microscope for research they are doing. Warburton is working on a project with Dr. Qing Wang, associate professor of mathematics, Dr. Zhijun Wang, associate professor of computer sciences, and David Klinke at West Virginia University that’s funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“We’re looking at breast cancer cell lines,” Warburton said. “So we’re trying to see if chemotherapeutic agents change the ability of the cells to survive. We can use stains that literally allow us to look at cells that are alive, those that are dying, and those that are dead and do comparative overlays of that data. As part of this grant, we’ll be able to model three-dimensional tumors and what are called spheroids specifically using this microscope.”

Plautz will use the microscope in her snail embryo research looking at how environmental contaminants such as herbicides and pesticides affect nontargeted organisms like aquatic snails or frogs.

“We’ve been investigating the role that components of Round Up have on normal development, on normal reproductive capability, behavior, and learning and memory using snails,” Plautz said.

Plautz and Warburton are also excited that the microscope will allow them to view multiple things at one time through an overlay.

“For instance, we can have a specimen that might have been stained with red directed against one molecule, green directed against another, and yellow or blue directed against a third,” Plautz explained. “We can take pictures in those three different channels picking up three different wavelengths of florescence and then do an overlay so you can see where the nucleus is blue, and then you have a red fluorescent molecule that’s picking one part of the cytoskeleton and green picking up another part of the cytoskeleton.”

Dr. Colleen Nolan, dean of the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, said the microscope will benefit students when they do their capstone research. Also, she pointed out it’s the same instrument used in many research laboratories in the country, which Nolan said will make Shepherd’s students more competitive when applying for internships or to graduate school.

“It expands the things we can help our students learn to do,” Nolan said. “They are going to be better equipped compared to students at other small, regional, primarily undergraduate institutions.”

Shruthi Sreekumar, a biology major from Morgantown who will attend medical school next fall, is excited the microscope arrived before she graduates.

“I think this microscope’s a really good opportunity to look more in depth into the research we’re doing with Dr. Plautz,” Sreekumar said. “It’s also an opportunity to continue learning and using new technologies.”

Amaris Jalil, a biology major from Charles Town, is also helping Plautz with the snail research.

“I get to use the new microscope to study calcium imaging in embryos, which is an opportunity I don’t believe many other undergrads have, so I’m really grateful for this,” Jalil said.

Listen to the interview HERE.

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