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New England Biolabs' donation enhances undergrad learning

Emily Hutchinson, BioE intern
10/10/2018 3:39:10 PM

For the second year in a row, the University of Illinois Bioengineering Department has received a generous donation of reagents from New England Biolabs, a supplier of enzymes for biological research. The reagents are being used in a newly-developed lab activity in the sophomore-level Cell and Tissue Engineering course (BioE 202) taught by Teaching Assistant Professor Karin Jensen.                        

Vincent Cornelius and Rodrigo Diaz complete the newly-developed lab activity in the sophomore-level Cell and Tissue Engineering lab (BioE 202).
Vincent Cornelius and Rodrigo Diaz complete the newly-developed lab activity in the sophomore-level Cell and Tissue Engineering lab (BioE 202).

Jensen, along with Assistant Professor Paul Jensen and course assistant Caroline Blassick, developed the activity specifically to help the class understand the concept of enzyme kinetics, which students often struggle with.

"There's a disconnect between students' conceptual understanding of how enzymes work, and their ability to work with the kind of data that enzyme kinetics experiments will generate," said Blassick, who graduated with her Bioengineering bachelor's degree this past May.

The new course exercise will eliminate this disconnect by allowing students to visualize how enzymes behave. In the biomedical engineering field, enzymes are ubiquitous tools that catalyze chemical transformations that would otherwise be very slow.

Caroline Blassick, center, and Professors Paul and Karin Jensen used the New England Biolabs donation to help students understand the concept of enzyme kinetics. Blassick is currently a graduate student at Boston University.
Caroline Blassick, center, and Professors Paul and Karin Jensen used the New England Biolabs donation to help students understand the concept of enzyme kinetics. Blassick is currently a graduate student at Boston University.

Specifically, the exercise involves two different types of enzymes: one produced by New England Biolabs, which has been engineered to work faster, and a second non-engineered enzyme. By visually monitoring the state of fluorescently labeled DNA in gels at different timepoints, students can infer which of the two enzymes is working faster. In addition to being intuitive, the activity is concise, cost-effective, and scalable for large class sizes, Blassick says.

Jensen noted that the New England Biolabs donation will impact Bioengineering education beyond the Illinois campus. "Caroline will present a poster explaining the lab activity at this year’s Biomedical Engineering Society Conference, and she plans to submit a paper on the same topic," said Jensen.

The importance in furthering the efficacy of enzymes lies in the future of bioengineering. According to Blassick, "Enzymes can be manipulated to catalyze faster, endure more, and identify targets more precisely so it's very important to keep making them better.”

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