Tan Explores the Marine Phenomenon of Bioluminescent Bacteria

December 8, 2008
By: Worcester State University News

Antonieto Tan, professor of biology, devised an efficient, productive way to spend his sabbatical during the fall 2007 semester. He stayed at Worcester State and used the biology laboratory facilities to study bioluminescent marine bacteria.

“I took one semester of sabbatical leave,” he said, “and wanted to do research that I could accomplish during that time and still have time for writing.”

The result of his sabbatical work? A June 2008 poster presentation at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in Boston. Tans poster, Rapid Identification and Phylogenetic Inference of the Genera of Luminous Bacteria Based on the DNA Sequence of the Amplified 16S rRNA Gene Using Novel PCR Primers, was one of more than a thousand presented at that meeting.

Bioluminescent bacteria are creatures that produce light in certain situations, Tan said, such as during crowded conditions. Many of these bacteria are marine. They’re available from organisms like fish and squid as they live in the gut. Others are free living and live on the outside of fish.

Tan’s goal was to construct new primers to amplify part of the gene responsible for bioluminescence to help identify these creatures. He tested the constructed primers on standardized samples secured from the bacteria culture bank, American Type Culture Collection.

The DNA sequencing facility at the University of Massachusetts Medical School then sequenced the purified amplicons, which are pieces of DNA that have been synthesized.

“My primers worked,” Tan said. “Anyone can use them to replicate this research for validation.”

With more resources, he added, all this work could be done at the college.

A 2007-08 mini-grant, Survey of Bioluminescent Marine Bacteria from Fresh Marine Organisms, supported Tan’s research.

Tan, who has been at the college for about 16 years, serves on the Biology Department’s honors committee, which is developing an honors program. Tan hopes that such a program will enable more researchers to involve students in their work.

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