Grant Brings New DNA Sequencer To Calvin

January 24, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — Calvin College received a nearly half-off deal worth $49,500 that allowed its biology department to acquire a state-of-the-art DNA sequencer.

The sequencer is expected to be available for student use in the upcoming semester, said Professor David DeHeer, chair of the biology department. It’s also available for faculty research.

“It isn’t very common for a school of our size to have two sequencers,” DeHeer said.  He and Professor Arlene Hoogewerf, who researches biolfilms, were awarded the grant from DNA sequencer manufacturer Beckman-Coutler Inc., of Brea, Calif.

DeHeer said the machine is a “workhorse” for biotechnology students in particular.

The new model uses less material, works faster and is cheaper to use than older technology sequencers, he said. 

“We can get DNA out of a single cell and analyze it. That’s amazing,” he added.

“The two big uses are for teaching and for research. We offer an undergraduate degree in biotechnology, and an essential part of biotech is learning about manipulating DNA. There are a number of other courses in which it will be useful: genetics, microbiology courses. We’ll use our older one, too, so that students now will have two different techniques.”

The sequencer costs about $100,000, so the grant from the manufacturer to DeHeer and Hoogewerf amounted to a nearly half-price discount. Both the new and six-year-old DNA sequencers will be available for teaching and research.

DeHeer said the 10-year-old sequencer, which also cost about $100,000 when it was new, was stripped of its electronics and then placed in the garbage bin.  He said his department houses millions of dollars worth of equipment and spends about $100,000 per year updating the armament.

“It’s part of our ongoing quest to provide our students with contemporary technology,” DeHeer said. “Technology changes all the time.”

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