The Biology Group at IV Lab supports a variety of projects focused on disease prevention and detection. This means taking on the challenge of trying to out-innovate some of the most innovative organisms on the planet: microbes. These invisible-to-the-naked-eye powerhouses have developed ways to use nearly anything as an energy source including sunlight, methane and iron. They are so good at what they do that they are ubiquitous on earth, surviving in places with temperatures that would freeze or melt the rest of us and pH levels extreme enough to dissolve most living organisms. No doubt they deserve some respect; indeed their ingenuity has also lead to the exploitation of the human body, often at the cost of disease.
Our Biology Group currently works with organisms like: Staphylococcus aureus known for its resistance to antibiotics; the infamous Escherichia coli; Mycobacterium smegmatis and Mycobacterium bovis both study surrogates for Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of TB; Haemophilus influenzae; and Plasmodium falciparum the parasite that causes Malaria.
The arsenal of equipment in the Biology Lab for detecting, enumerating and studying organisms which are on the scale of micrometers in size includes:
- An epifluorecsent microscope which can be used in conjunction with glowing tags to illuminate localized gene expression, to enumerate bacterial phylotypes in a sample, or to view Plasmodium cells in blood
- PCR thermocyclers capable of detecting a single gene copy by amplifying it to more than 10,000,000,000 individual copies
- A Quantitative PCR Thermocycler that enumerates the number of genes present in a sample (which can be used to estimate the number of microbes in that sample)
- A cryostat for freezing samples of tissue or mosquitoes, and slicing and dicing them into thin, precise layers; Incubators for growing microbes and freezers to store them for future study – ‘cause microbes can survive -80 °C for very long periods of time! Try that with a lab mouse.
While we are busy trying to keep up with the rapid evolution of microbes that can have a generation time of a few hours, we are happy to answer questions regarding what we are discovering about life.