Students taking biology classes at Shepherd University have the opportunity to use two professional-grade inverted fluorescence microscopes that were recently donated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Shepherd is on the approved NIH donation list, and Dr. Sara Reynolds (pictured), assistant professor of biology, reached out to the agency to inquire about receiving surplus microscopes.
Reynolds said the microscopes were used in research done by Dr. Owen Schwartz, chief of the Biological Imaging Section at NIH. They came with a case filled with small, square lenses that have different colors to them and are connected to a light source that can make molecules inside a cell glow. This allows researchers to see parts of a cell that otherwise wouldn’t be visible.
“What this system does is filter light so that only certain colors hit the specimen and specific molecules will glow. This allows us to identify different parts of the cell,” Reynolds said. “I teach cell biology and immunology right now and we use these to look at the parts of the cell that we’ve been studying.”
Reynolds said cells are normally too small to see with the naked eye. All microscopes make the entire cell bigger but don’t help make specific molecules in a cell visible. The fluorescence microscope shows different parts of a cell in different colors.
Reynolds said this technique allows students to study many different proteins or organelles in cells, viruses, or bacteria.
“I can also use these microscopes to insert new genes or take out existing genes in viruses and bacteria,” she said. “You can do this with human cells too—take out a gene and put in a fluorescence gene. Then you can pick the ones that glow and because they glow you know that it is missing a gene.”
The ability to insert and take out a gene tells researchers what job that gene does.
“When a gene is missing, you can see what is broken in the cell or what stops working,” Reynolds said. “You can then say ‘oh, the gene must be important for that because now it’s not doing it correctly.’”
“I think it is great that students will get the opportunity to use current imaging equipment, in this case, microscopes,” Schwartz said. “The students can see that by using research-grade microscopes, you can see images just like those in the textbooks and published papers. Hopefully, this will inspire students to pursue a career in biology or medicine. In both fields, imaging and microscopy have become central to research projects.”
From Shepherd University