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SCB gets 2 behind-the-scenes tours at Callaway Gardens


On a beautiful Fall Saturday (September 28), 4 SCB student members traveled to Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain Georgia accompanied by advisor Bob Boyd and DBS faculty member and SCB supporter Sharon Roberts. After first stopping for lunch, we saw the Raptor show put on by staff members and then were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the Raptor Facility, led by Manager Laura Mirarchi. We then went to the Day Butterfly House, where former AU student and current Manager Michael Buckman gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of that facility. Michael also gave students specimens (deceased) of some of the gorgeous moths or butterflies displayed at the Butterfly House: best souvenirs ever!

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Auburn professors develop disease-detection technology, possible key to new handheld detection devices


Auburn professors develop disease-detection technology, possible key to new handheld detection devices Two Auburn University professors have developed a disease-detection technology that could be the beginning of handheld, point-of-care devices – a breakthrough that would let health care professionals, first responders and even individuals quickly do blood tests for a variety of illnesses and conditions. Associate Professor Christopher J. Easley and Professor Curtis Shannon, both in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in the College of Sciences and Mathematics, led the research team that published its results in the March 27 issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. “This new technique is rapid and accurate,” Easley said. “We can get results in three minutes compared to current lab technology which takes six hours. Our technique is also very flexible in that it should require relatively minor adjustments to detect hundreds of other proteins that are biomarkers for diseases.” The Process Easley engineers DNA strands and uses chemistry to attach them to two standard antibodies already known to bind to a specific protein in blood. When the two antibodies attach to the protein in the blood sample, the DNA strands on each antibody come together onto a metal electrode to produce an electrochemical signal. The magnitude of the signal indicates the protein level in the blood, a process they termed as electrochemical proximity assay, or ECPA. Easley’s lab attaches the DNA to the antibodies while Shannon works with the electrochemical process. “We detected the insulin protein level in mouse serum in three minutes,” said Easley, who began conducting the research in late 2011. “We can apply this to many proteins that are biomarkers for diseases. The technique is very sensitive, too. We can detect 5,000 times lower than the normal amount of insulin in blood.” The researchers also performed normal laboratory tests using current technology and found the new technique detected a much wider range of protein levels and at much lower concentrations. Since the technique involves an electrical measurement, Shannon says it could be miniaturized like any electronic device, such as a glucose meter. “Electrochemistry’s advantage over other types of detection technology is that it is relatively low cost and it can be miniaturized,” Shannon said. “We have no handheld device now, but our technology could be the foundation for a device that a healthcare company could commercialize for point-of-care analysis. They would need to do clinical trials on human blood first.” Targeting Different Diseases The Auburn researchers can target different protein-based biomarkers by changing the two antibodies to target other diseases. Potential applications could include tests for liver disease, cancer, inflammation of the heart, Alzheimer’s disease, tuberculosis, pancreatitis, diabetes, kidney disease and numerous others, Easley said. “You could get a sample of blood and determine if a person has a disease with a predefined biomarker,” he said. “A single device could be used for diagnosis of multiple diseases by simply switching out the antibodies on the metal surface. “The technology could have an impact on biomedical research as well, such as understanding how a person’s insulin spikes when he or she drinks a soft drink. As far as I know, there is no other way to so rapidly detect insulin now.” The research is funded by the National Science Foundation, the USDA and the National Institutes of Health and is supported by Auburn’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the Office of Technology Transfer. The university has applied for a U.S. patent on the new technique and is considering licensing the technology to an external company for further development. “We are really excited about the potential for this technology,” Easley said. “This technique works really well and is consistent.  It can be miniaturized and it gives quantitative measurements.”

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SCB longleaf pine restoration tour


On Saturday, September 21, BioSci’s own Dr. Sharon Hermann led a tour of campus sites that are being used as demonstration areas for restoration of longleaf pine forests. Two hardy students braved the rainy conditions to learn from her expertise as a Restoration Ecologist. Longleaf pine forest, a dominant forest type over most of the Coastal Plain in the Southeastern United States, has been mostly lost over the past century (perhaps 3% of the original forest remains) because of logging and exclusion of fire from the landscape. Dr. Hermann showed us a site on campus that still has 18 old-growth longleaf pines (with ages over 200 years) along with other areas that she and colleagues have used for restoration research.

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Donnan conducts physics research in Germany and gives presentation at international conference in Scotland


Physics senior Patrick Donnan made his mark as an academic elite when he was chosen as a 2013 Barry M. Goldwater Scholar , an honor bestowed upon approximately 300 students nationwide each year. The scholarship is widely considered the most prestigious award in the United States for undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines.

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Night Swamp Walk taken by SCB


Under an almost full moon, Auburn University’s chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) took a nighttime stroll in swamps at Tuskegee National Forest after our second meeting of the semester (September 17). Led by Ecology Lab Coordinator Shawn “Gator” Jacobsen and DBS faculty member Debbie Folkerts, 13 members observed the eyeshine of spiders (and several species in webs and foraging on the ground), found a variety of other invertebrate species both aquatic and terrestrial, saw a fawn and several cottonmouths, found salamander larvae and Fowler’s toads, and otherwise explored the nocturnal world for several hours on a warm fall evening.

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2013 COSAM Visitation Day Registration Deadline October 11, 2013


We invite you to our Auburn University College of Sciences and Mathematics (COSAM) Minority High School Visitation Day on October 18, 2013 in the AU Student Center from 8:30 am - 2:30 pm CST.This event is hosted by the College of Sciences and Mathematics and is open to high school juniors and seniors who are interested in pursuing a career in science and mathematics. Parents, counselors, and teachers can accompany the students on this day. Please ask students to register online CLICK HERE by October, 11, 2013. The RSVP information will give us the students personal information so we can contact them directly with specifics about the day and provide them with city and campus maps.

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Professors Thomas and Konopka receive funding for dusty plasma research


Edward Thomas, Jr. , the Lawrence C. Wit Professor, and associate professor Uwe Konopka , both of the Plasma Sciences Laboratory in the Department of Physics, were awarded two new grants from the Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation totaling $765,000 for the project titled, “The Physics of Magnetized Dusty Plasmas.”  According to Thomas, dusty plasmas are a novel, four-component plasma state consisting of ions, electrons, neutral atoms and charged microparticles (i.e., “dust”). The awards provide continuing support for the Magnetized Dusty Plasma Experiment (MDPX), a multi-user, next-generation, superconducting, high magnetic field plasma physics research instrument. The awards will support Auburn University students and researchers, and will also bring a diverse team of national and international researchers to Auburn to perform experimental and theoretical studies using the MDPX device. When combined with funding provided to the project collaborators at the University of Iowa and the University of California – San Diego, a total of more than $1 million has been provided to the MDPX research team. For more information on the Plasma Sciences Laboratory, visit the website.

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