Unique UF Web Site Provides Live Access To Laboratory Research

By:
Chuck Woods (352) 392-1773 x 281

Source(s):
Marian Buszko (352) 392-7203
Edward Hoffmann (352) 392-1906
Lori Rice (352) 392-2382
Robert London (919) 541-4879

GAINESVILLE—It’s not a World Wide Web site likely to draw big crowds, but it is the only one of its kind in the world.

University of Florida researchers have linked a powerful nuclear magnetic resonance, or NMR, system to the Internet, giving scientists, students and curious Web surfers a chance to see and use real time laboratory experiments in microbiology and cell science.

“Until recently, our NMR instrument could be used by only one person at a time, and it was not an efficient way to provide large numbers of students with hands-on experience,” said Marian Buszko, microbiologist with the UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, who developed the Web-based system.

“Now, this technology can be accessed and operated from any desktop computer on the Internet by using a Web browser,” he said. “Our World Wide Web NMR spectrometer provides universal access to real, research-grade instrumentation. Even untrained users can operate the system, thanks to the popularity of Web browsers and an easy-to-use graphical layout.”

NMR technology and a related system known as magnetic resonance imaging allow scientists to measure biological and chemical processes at a level of detail unmatched by any other technology, Buszko said.

In most experiments on the Web site, living micro-organisms or cells, including cancer cells, are placed in the NMR spectrometer to measure tumor growth or metabolism over an extended period, Buszko said. From the convenience of their office or home computer, participating scientists and students can watch how cells react to various treatments applied in the laboratory.

He said the system is a major step forward in interdisciplinary research and distance education.

Currently, 20 students in microbiology and cell science are participating in the NMR teaching program, which started about two years ago, said department Chairman Ed Hoffmann.

“The feedback from students has been very positive because they like the ability to interact in actual, not virtual experiments,” Hoffmann said. “By linking our NMR spectrometer to the Internet, we have put this $300,000 instrument on the desk of everyone who needs to access this technology.”

Although the system is located in UF’s department of microbiology and cell science, students across campus in related fields, including agriculture and natural resources, veterinary medicine and the health sciences, also are using it.

Scientists are using it, too.

In one recent project, a UF medical researcher used her home computer to observe the growth of prostate cancer cells in living tissue over a two-week period.

Lori Rice, assistant research scientist in the department of surgery at UF’s College of Medicine, and researchers from the University of Maryland are using the NMR spectrometer to determine if doses of zinc can slow or stop the growth of prostate cancer cells.

“In order to improve survival rates and reduce medical costs, we need to know what to target in a prostate cancer cell,” Rice said. “Data we obtain from our NMR cell culture experiments may help us design new treatments for even advanced prostate tumors.”

In another study, scientists from several UF departments watched micro-organisms grow and discussed research results on a conference call.

Buszko’s World Wide Web NMR spectrometer, which is receiving about 3,000 hits per week, can be accessed via the UF NMR information Web site at www.nmr.ufl.edu

The information site also includes research updates from scientists worldwide, conference notices and links to other databases and journal articles. That site is receiving about 25,000 hits per week, Buszko said.

“The UF’s NMR information Web site is an outstanding source of technical information, and it fills a very important void that existed before it was introduced,” said Robert London, research physicist and NMR group leader at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Operation of the UF World Wide Web NMR spectrometer is being supported by grants from U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as Sun Microsystems in Mountain View, Calif., and Altera Corporation in San Jose, Calif.

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