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WKU-O's Biology program and its relation with Center for Business and Research, Owensboro

Western Kentucky University-Owensboro’s biology program caters to both traditional and non-traditional students at Owensboro owing to the 2+2 program agreement with the Owensboro Community and Technical College (OCTC) that enables a natural transition for the biology and biotechnology Associate degree seeking students at OCTC to fulfill their dream of getting a university degree. Dr. Chandra Emani, who is the biology faculty at WKU-O, is exposing the students to research in plant biotechnology and plant molecular biology thanks to a unique relation that WKU-O shares with the Owensboro Center for Business and Research’s emerging ventures research program. This relation enables Dr. Emani to be a liaison between WKU-O and the area-wide biotechnology industries. Dr. Emani’s research lab is situated in the Center for Business Research’s research incubator that houses many biotech and commercial industries. All the biology classes with laboratory components are being conducted at the incubator so that students can be exposed to real world scenarios by working with the industries and also observe firsthand the workings of the cutting-edge instrumentation available at the industries and the central instrumentation facility that has instruments such as fluorescence microscopes, spectrophotometers, deep freezers, DNA electrophoresis units, High Performance Liquid Chromatographs, and DNA amplification units. The success of this approach can be illustrated by the fact that two undergraduate students being trained in research by Dr. Emani wrote their own research grants under the auspices of the WKU Office of Research’s Faculty Undergraduate Student Exchange (FUSE) opportunity. One of the projects involved producing biofuel-related enzymes in tobacco plants collaborating with the Kentucky Bioprocessing industry, and another involved developing a genetic engineering system in basil plant for production of medicinal compounds to combat breast cancer. The undergraduate program that started with a modest two students in 2010 grew to fifteen students at various stages of graduation with three students pursuing their Master’s degree in biology. Dr. Emani collaborates with a food toxicology company, Hollison Technologies, to develop methods to effectively detect food toxins and bacteria, with the Kentucky bioprocessing company for production of biofuel-related enzymes in tobacco, and with the Owensboro Cancer Research Center to develop basil plant as a pharmaceutical source to combat breast cancer. The collaborations will be a platform to identify the needs and technical expectations of future employers in biology and biotechnology at Owensboro so that the biology curriculum can be supplemented with such technical and experimental aspects. Furthermore, students encouraged to conduct research at the undergraduate level will have a better understanding of serving the community they are a part of, especially in the area of health. The collaborations initiated by Dr. Emani will contribute towards the knowledge-based economy of Daviess County in terms of creating an effective student research group in plant biotechnology.

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 Last Modified 9/25/14