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ECU opens science lab for new biotech course

GREENVILLE, N.C.   (Feb. 16, 1996)   —   A new science laboratory being assembled in the biology department at East Carolina University will help students get better training in the rapidly growing field of biotechnology.
Dr. Charles Bland, ECU’s biology chairman, said his department will establish a Protein Purification Lab to support a new course in Protein Purification Techniques that will begin this summer. The equipment for the new lab will be purchased with an $89,000 grant from the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
Protein purification is a process used in the study of DNA or gene function. The injection of DNA into a cell produces a protein that must be isolated before it can be examined. The process of isolating the protein is what is known as protein purification.
While biotechnology students learn to handle and manipulate the microscopic fingerprint ladders of DNA, their lack of access to expensive equipment often limits their exposure to advanced techniques for handling protein.
“Hardly anyone teaches protein handling as a complete course,” said Dr. W. James Smith, an ECU biochemist and the project’s director. He said a recent survey of universities across the state did not turn up a single course devoted to protein handling.
“We’ve been wanting to do this for many years but the biggest holdup has been the cost of the equipment,” Smith said
The new lab will be outfitted with four programmable chromatography systems installed in refrigerated cabinets, four UV-visible spectrophotometers, a freeze drying apparatus and other accessories that will enable students to rapidly perform experimental procedures using the most advanced methods. The equipment will also give the students experience with the kinds of instruments used in biotechnology labs that perform medical, agricultural and pharmacological research.
Smith said said the new course may also serve as a model for biotechnology programs at other colleges and universities. In addition, he said the laboratory will provide ECU with a site for workshops to train or retrain people who are already working in the biotechnology industry.
Co directors for the project are Drs. Cindy Putnam-Evans and Mary Farwell. All three scientists are protein biochemists.
ECU’s bachelor’s degree program in biochemistry began in 1971. The undergraduate degree in biology and biotechnology started in 1984 and a graduate program in molecular biology and biotechnology opened in 1986. More than 70 students are currently enrolled in these programs.