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TRADING PLACES: UMFK PROFESSOR ATTENDS BIOTECH CLASS IN SAN FRANCISCO TAUGHT BY FORMER STUDENT

March 27, 2009

NR09033

University of Maine at Fort Kent Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, Dr. Kim Borges, recently returned from San Francisco, California, where she took a class on the operation of a new biotech instrument.  

Taking a class on how to operate a new piece of equipment, particularly one that will be used in the classroom, as well as in student and faculty field research, is not particularly unique.  What separates Dr. Borges’ training from others she has taken in the past, is that she was taught the operation of the new biotech instrument by one of her former students, UMFK alumnus, Paul Streng. 

Streng is a field applications specialist with Applied Biosystems in Foster City, California.  He graduated from UMFK (summa cum laude) in December 2001 with a Bachelor of University Studies degree, majoring in Biology.   

The biotech instrument is called a StepOne Real-time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) system.  Scientists use the instruments to detect and measure tiny quantities of genes in biological samples.  Dr. Borges plans to use the instrument to search for disease-causing microbes in water samples, but researchers also use this type of equipment for a wide variety of investigations, ranging from detecting bacterially-tainted food to studying cancer.   

UMFK purchased the biotech instrument through the proceeds of a Maine Economic Improvement Fund grant awarded to Professor Borges this past fall.   

“UMFK is fortunate to be one of the few universities in the University of Maine System to have an RT-PCR instrument.  The instruments are relatively new to molecular biology, and they have become a very important research tool.  I think I am the only biologist in the County who currently is using this biotech method,” said Dr. Borges.   

“I chose to attend this course so that I could learn from specialists who know the “tricks of the trade.”   Paul is an expert in instrument use, as well as RT-PCR theory.  He has a wealth of knowledge about how researchers across the U.S. use this important biotech tool.  Paul was a great instructor, and I enjoyed his class.  It was fun to be the student instead of the teacher for a change!”    

Class attendees benefitted by having training in a class environment, hands-on laboratory practicals, and by interacting with fellow attendees and Applied Bio-systems application specialists during both lecture and discussion sessions.  Dr. Borges had the opportunity to talk with classmates from all over the country who were research scientists studying schizophrenia, HIV screening, and detection of pathogens, such as anthrax.

Streng noted: “When I heard that Kim had purchased a Real-Time PCR system from Applied Biosystems, I contacted her to discuss training options.  After some discussion, Kim decided to travel to Foster City, California to our Customer Applications Training Center.  

“The three-day course combined lecture and hands-on learning, covering a wide range of topics.  My role was to present all the lectures and assist in the lab during the hands-on training.  I found no difference in training Kim versus training any other student.  However, it was fun and a delight to teach someone who once taught me in the same field.  

“I have to admit that I made the comment at the beginning of the class that ‘the tables have turned, and now I am teaching the teacher.’  From time to time during the course, I wondered if Kim already knew what I was teaching.  But in the end, I know that I was able to provide her with a wealth of knowledge that can be shared with everyone in the UMFK biology program,” Streng recalled.  

The three-day interactive course was a comprehensive application-based training that covered the Principles of Quantitative and End-Point Real-Time PCR. Users learned how to apply the topics learned in class to their own lab experiments. The course was designed to teach proper experimental design and results interpretation for a variety of experiments.

Since graduating UMFK with a degree in biology, Streng has spent his time working in two research labs: the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.  In 2006, he left the Mayo Clinic as the lab supervisor to join the biotech industry.  Streng says it was a simple decision to make.  

“As a Field Applications Specialist for Applied Biosystems, my job was to educate researchers in the field of Real-Time PCR and gene expression.  Based in Chicago, I traveled throughout six states, visiting a wide range of institutions from academics to pharmaceuticals,” Streng said.  

In his current position, Streng has had the opportunity to visit UMFK to present a seminar and to discuss careers in the biotech industry with many students.   

“It was the first time that I had presented to any former professors.  Drs. Steve Selva, Kurt Holtzhausen, and Kim Borges attended the seminar, along with numerous students.  In all honesty, it felt no different giving that seminar compared to all the others I had given over the years. The only difference is that I knew more people in the crowd,” Streng noted.               

In 2008, Streng transferred to the Bay Area in California, continuing in the same position, but with a new territory.  Later in the year, he was promoted to the North America Genotyping Network Coordinator and Staff Field Applications Scientist covering genotyping.  On occasion, he lends a hand to other teams teaching Real-Time PCR courses.”

“It is great to see UMFK making the move to work towards offering the latest in molecular biology techniques.  With its new system, the entire biology program will benefit.  Now faculty and students can study the effects of pollutants in the St. John River on various plants and animals to measuring countless viruses and bacteria from any source.  All of this will provide the researcher extremely valuable information that once was not available,” Streng added.  ###