Mar. 14, 2013:

Contact: Lars Tomanek

Cal Poly Biology Students Lead NSF Workshop, Teach Professors New Technique

SAN LUIS OBISPO – A group of Cal Poly biology students are among a select few experts in the country using a new method of protein analysis. Last December, the students shared their expertise by teaching the process to professors and doctoral students from other universities.

 The students planned and led a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded workshop in environmental proteomics, a method of analyzing how organisms respond to different environmental stresses.

 “My group just took over,” said Lars Tomanek, Cal Poly professor of biological sciences. “I gave an introduction and a talk at the end, and in between I helped order pizza.”

 The biologists are studying how environmental conditions affect an organism’s production of proteins, which predicts the organism’s reaction to climate change. “We can tell by looking at these proteins who will be the winners and who will be the losers,” Tomanek said.

 The method’s first step, called two-dimensional gel electrophoresis, measures how much of a protein is being made. The process is notoriously difficult. Following the students’ instruction, nine out of 12 workshop attendees got good results, an impressive success rate.

 “Not only was it apparent that the students were skilled in the techniques, but they were also patient and supportive teachers,” said Andreas Madlung, a biology professor at the University of Puget Sound. “The workshop was well-organized in every respect — scientifically and administratively — as well as fun, instructive and inspiring."

 “As a student, it was rewarding to be regarded as an expert by people who are experienced and accomplished in their field,” said Michael Garland, a graduate student in biological sciences. “I think all of us presenting in the workshop realized that the work we do at Cal Poly is truly on the cutting edge.”

 Because so few labs use this technique, the hands-on experience gives Cal Poly students exceptional career opportunities. “Our master’s students are getting jobs usually reserved for people with doctorate degrees,” Tomanek said.

The second step in the analysis, which identifies the protein, requires costly equipment that workshop participants may not have on their home campuses. Cal Poly's Environmental Proteomics Lab will run the second step for the workshop attendees in the future.

 “One of NSF’s grand challenges is how to share and spread technology,” Tomanek said. “The NSF program director pointed to Cal Poly’s proteomics lab as the only example he’s seen on how to address this challenge.”

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