The W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS - www.kbs.msu.edu) of Michigan State University (MSU) has been awarded a grant to enhance educational and research projects that utilize molecular and genomics tools to address a broad range of questions in ecology, evolution, conservation biology and agriculture. KBS is the largest off-campus unit of MSU and is known worldwide as a premier field site for research, education, and outreach in ecology and evolutionary biology. KBS provides access to diverse natural and managed habitats, many suitable for experimentation, and also hosts a number of long-term studies that provide unique opportunities for research on ecological and evolutionary processes. Advanced molecular and genomic tools are increasingly used for gaining improved and sometimes transformative understanding of these processes. The growing research in this area by current KBS faculty, and interest of new MSU faculty and researchers from other institutions has taxed our current facilities and severely limited our ability to include training in molecular techniques and bioinformatic analyses for graduate and undergraduate students. These funds will be used to expand and support a new Molecular Ecology & Genomics (MEG) laboratory at KBS that will integrate research and teaching for resident and visiting researchers, provide next-generation-sequencing (NGS) and bioinformatics training for graduate students, and allow us to expand summer course offerings and research experiences for undergraduates to include these methods.
The MEG lab at KBS will support a wide set of NGS technologies from high throughput DNA/RNA extraction through genomic library preparation and sample send-off. The equipment to be installed in the MEG lab will expand the types of research that can be carried out at KBS to include studies in transcriptomics and functional genomics (i.e., CRISPR/Cas9 gene knockouts) in addition to RNA and DNA genomic library preparation. The improvements will include a Kingfisher Flex for high-throughput DNA/RNA extraction, a multi-mode plate reader for fluorescent and absorbance assays for measurement of nucleic acid quality and quantity, and a mobile microinjection station for functional genomic and molecular development work in non-model organisms. Importantly, these improvements will provide opportunities for novel research that couple "-omics" studies with field based natural history. Expansion of the MEG lab also will support the undergraduate educational programs at KBS by allowing us to introduce students in summer courses to these techniques and technologies and train those here for research experiences in modern molecular genomic tools and bioinformatics. These tools are being used in a growing number of exciting and creative ways throughout ecology, evolutionary biology, agriculture, and conservation biology, the central research topics at KBS. Gaining expertise in molecular and bioinformatic methods will better prepare students for careers or graduate education in these fields. The KBS MEG Lab will also allow us to develop teaching modules and train K-12 teachers so that they can better understand, and where possible, include these approaches in their classrooms.