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UMaine Today Magazine


Culture Club

Anne Hanson with UMaine student
Anne Hanson with UMaine student
 

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Hanson's work benefits microbiology students, educators worldwide

Anne Hanson hangs out with a rough crowd: Staphylococcus aureus. Streptococcus pneumoniae. Haemophilus influenzae.

The company she keeps is enough to make anyone sick. But that's the whole point.

In her microbiology lab at the University of Maine, Hanson tests pathogens and documents the results so students and colleagues - on campus and worldwide -can benefit. Her work is part of the Atlas-Protocol Collection on the American Society for Microbiology's Web site (microbelibrary.org).

The Atlas-Protocol Collection was developed in 2004 as a training tool for microbiology students and faculty. It is part of the society's Microbelibrary - online, peer-reviewed teaching resources for undergraduate microbiology education, supported by the American Society for Microbiology.

The protocol collection includes images, historical background and step-by-step instructions to help educators replicate the tests in their own labs. Collection contributors must conduct the lab work and have the accompanying written materials peer reviewed, a process that takes about a year from start to finish.

Hanson, who has contributed two protocols, recently joined the committee that oversees the Atlas-Protocol Collection.

"It's a very little piece of a big thing," says Hanson, who has worked as an instructor in the UMaine Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Molecular Biology for more than a decade. "We have members all over the world and we cover all kinds of concepts."

For undergraduate microbiology instructors, the Atlas-Protocol Collection is an invaluable tool. Working with pathogens can be risky, and many smaller schools or organizations don't have the proper safeguards. The trend is to conduct dry labs or include images of expected results in a slideshow.

Pathogens must be tested in a sterile environment. They require specific conditions for growth and must be disposed of properly. For schools that don't have a comprehensive microbiology curriculum, those demands can be cost-prohibitive.

"At the University of Maine, that isn't an issue. We have a microbiology department and it's essential (for students to have hands-on experience to identify pathogens)," Hanson says. "We're training people to work in clinical labs."

Though UMaine students are able to conduct the tests with live pathogens, they still turn to the online Microbe Library when they need to see how a test result should look. The students who plan to work in a clinical setting say they'll continue to use it as a reference.

"It's a good resource now," says Stephanie Bouchard, who graduated from UMaine in 2006 with a degree in chemistry and is working toward a second degree in clinical laboratory sciences. "We definitely could use that (in the field)."

Lee Hutchinson, a teaching assistant in Hanson's pathogenic microbiology laboratory, says experiencing the results in clear, living color is far different from reading about them in a textbook.

"A lot of science tends to be very interesting, very groundbreaking, but not very visual," says Hutchinson. "With pathogens, you're plating it, you're seeing what an organism is doing on a blood agar plate. If it hemolyzes it, you can actually see it clearing the blood, which is both interesting and disturbing at the same time."

For Hanson's students, seeing is believing. Once they learn the proper protocol, they'll be able to accurately diagnose a staph infection or a strep throat - and that's enough to make anyone well.

"The students really like it," Hanson says. "It really teaches them a skill they'll be able to go out and use."

 

UMaine Today Magazine
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