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Biology department receives National Science Foundation grant

Arthur H. Trickett-Wile
Kelly Thompson Hall is seen Thursday, March 23, 2023 on the WKU campus in Bowling Green, Ky.

Researchers in WKU’s biology department will receive new lab technology this winter after faculty received a $300,000 National Science Foundation grant in August.

The grant will be used to fund the acquisition of a fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS), a machine which allows researchers to separate populations of cells, according to Dr. Simran Banga, lead applicant for the grant.

The machine will be used for a range of projects in both classroom activities and research, Banga said. Among the topics being studied by students in the recipients’ labs are sleep apnea in mice, yeast cell shape control and the bacteria behind Legionnaire’s disease, a type of pneumonia.


Banga said that the cell sorter will help students better understand the functions of cell populations.

“In my research with Legionella, our question is, ‘how is it able to manipulate or hijack this cell that is supposed to be protecting us into infecting us?’”, Banga said. “This machine is going to help us be able to segregate different cell populations and study them precisely—what they are doing, how they are different. In my research, it’ll help me to understand how these bacteria can manipulate those cells.”

The FACS funding is the newest in a series of grants awarded to Ogden college faculty in the past several years. Dr. Michael E. Smith, biology department head, said that students across departments benefit from the college’s growing biotechnology lab.

“The nice thing about WKU is that often if you go to a large research institution, big pieces of equipment like that are kind of hands-off to undergraduates,” Smith said. “Here, under a mentor’s guidance, undergraduates can use these expensive microscopes and machines to gather data. It’s a pretty cool opportunity for these students.”

Briana Harness, a senior biochemistry major working under Banga, said that the technology in the lab is “essential” for research at WKU.

“When I first got here my freshman year, I really wanted to be in a research lab,” Harness said. “There’s a lot of new medicine that’s been developed with new scientific advancements over the years. I want to be on the forefront of that if I can.”

The cell sorter will be available for use to students trained in the technology by a professor. Students interested in getting involved with biological research on campus can contact Dr. Smith or visit the biology department office in Kelly Thompson Hall Room 3007.

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