Davidson Professor Develops DNA Sequencing for Undergraduates
Christine Larned and Dave Wessner review slides of DNA samples
by Alexandra Obregon
As the human genome project continues to open new doors for research in microbiology and biotechnology, increased interest in these fields has created a need for students and researchers with first-hand knowledge of DNA sequencing and analysis.
Soon, thanks to the efforts of David Wessner, assistant professor of biology at Davidson College, more undergraduate students will be prepared to meet this demand.
With the help of student research assistant Christine Larned '01, Wessner is developing a set of laboratory protocols that will allow Davidson students in upper level biology courses to conduct DNA sequencing experiments - a first for undergraduates everywhere.
"DNA sequencing is an important component of molecular biology," Wessner said. "All students going into the field are going to be involved with it in some way."
In most laboratories, DNA sequencing protocols are either radioactive or automated, involving hazardous radioactive material and equipment that make them unfeasible for college students. Recent technological advances, however, have now made non-radioactive detection methods and fast-running 'mini' sequencing gels possible. Wessner plans to adapt these technologies into reliable protocols that can be completed with three-hour undergraduate laboratory segments.
The processes used will not support complex DNA structures such as the human genome. Nevertheless, students will have experience and in-depth knowledge about DNA beyond what they read in their textbooks. As Wessner explained, "The information is the same but smaller in scale."
Wessner's current microbiology course laboratory involves a project in which students isolate the E. coli bacterium. With the new DNA sequencing protocols, Wessner will be able to incorporate DNA sequencing for E. coli into the course without having to extend the amount of time devoted to lab work.
Wessner's project, entitled "Development of Chemiluminescent DNA Sequencing Protocols," is being funded by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Wessner and Larned plan to present their findings at a meeting of the American Society of Microbiology in May, and publish them in a journal of microbiology education, so that other colleges may develop similar programs in DNA study.