Press Release

New Mobile Lab To Bolster Bioscience Education

The nation's newest and largest mobile laboratory, the MdBioLab, will be launched in early February to help Maryland high schools enhance their bioscience education programs. TIGR has partnered with MdBio, Inc., and the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute to create this innovative non-profit project.

Jan. 23, 2003

In an innovative effort to help high school bioscience education keep pace with fast-moving research advances, the nation's newest and largest mobile bioscience lab, the MdBioLab, will be launched in early February.

The new lab on wheels offers state-of-the-art laboratory facilities as well as communications equipment that provides online access to video conferencing, bioinformatics databases, and other resources for students and teachers.

MdBioLab, which can accommodate entire classes of up to 32 students at once, is designed to enhance bioscience curricula for students and teachers during its week-long stays at high schools throughout Maryland, from rural areas to inner cities. The non-profit program is expected to reach as many as 20,000 students and hundreds of science teachers each year.

The new 18-wheel mobile laboratory was developed by a partnership of MdBio Inc., a private not-for-profit organization, with two cutting-edge research centers: The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), a not-for-profit research institute, and the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute (UMBI). Donations from Fisher Scientific International Inc. and The Foundation for the National Institutes of Health provided all of the laboratory equipment.

TIGR's President, Claire M. Fraser, says the mobile lab will benefit both students and teachers "by sparking their interest in bioscience and by exposing them to cutting-edge technology." UMBI President Jennie C. Hunter-Cevera adds that: "Rapid advances in science and technology demand educational programs like MdBioLab that are responsive and accessible. C. Robert Eaton, the President of MdBio, Inc., says "we expect MdBioLab to yield great benefits across the board" by inspiring some students to choose a career in bioscience and giving others "a basic understanding of the promises and limitations of biotechnology."

The initial MdBioLab curriculum, which aims to introduce students to important concepts in molecular biology, genomics and related fields, was developed by UMBI's SciTech Education Program and CityLab of the Boston University Medical School, and was adapted by TIGR's education department. The problem-solving lessons teach students about such issues as anemia diagnosis and forensic DNA-fingerprinting.

Boston's CityLab, which is housed in a bus, was the pioneer mobile bioscience lab, and similar buses are now operating in Connecticut and North Carolina. MdBioLab - the first such lab to be pulled by a detachable tractor truck - is larger (so that it can accommodate bigger classes) and offers more advanced lab equipment.

Stacey Franklin, the project leader for MdBioLab and director of outreach programs at MdBio Inc., says the new mobile lab will help science students and teachers by giving them better access to scientific equipment and by helping them keep current on rapidly changing fields of bioscience.

The MdBioLab launch events will take place at three Maryland sites in early February: in Annapolis on Feb. 3, in Baltimore on Feb. 7, and in Rockville on Feb. 10. After that, the mobile lab will hit the road to visit Maryland high schools. The lead instructor will be Jen Colvin, a lab trainer on loan from TIGR, who will be joined in the lab by a high school teacher from Frederick. TIGR's Education and Training Manager, Lisa McDonald, says, "The hands-on investigations will introduce biology students to up-to-date technologies used by scientists at UMBI, TIGR and other research institutes."

While the high school stays will last one week, MdBioLab will also have a longer-term impact on bioscience education. After the mobile lab leaves a school, the teachers will have access to equipment through a loaner lab program that will allow them to replicate the mobile laboratory's experiments in their classroom.

The lessons are available on the Internet at: www.mdbiolab.org A web-based clearinghouse will be developed to include not only the lesson guides, but also bulletin boards for teacher networking, a list of teacher training programs, and an "Ask the Expert" function that will feature working scientists' written responses to questions from students and teachers.

MdBio, Inc. is a private, not-for-profit corporation that supports commercial development of bioscience in Maryland. The organization uses its resources to offer programs in four areas: 1) direct investments in companies or company projects, 2) business development assistance, 3) communications and 4) education. Since 1998, MdBio has invested a total of almost $4 million in more than 30 bioscience companies.

The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR) is a not-for-profit research institute based in Rockville, Maryland. TIGR, which sequenced the first complete genome of a free-living organism in 1995, has been at the forefront of the genomic revolution since the institute was founded a decade ago. TIGR conducts research involving the structural, functional, and comparative analysis of genomes and gene products in viruses, bacteria, archaea, and eukaryotes.

The University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute was mandated by the state of Maryland legislature in 1985 as "a new paradigm of state economic development in biotech-related sciences." With five major research and education centers across Maryland, UMBI is dedicated to advancing the frontiers of biotechnology. The centers are the Center for Advanced Research in Biotechnology in Rockville; Center for Agricultural Biotechnology in College Park; and Center of Marine Biotechnology, Medical Biotechnology Center, and the Institute of Human Virology, all in Baltimore.

Media Contact:
Robert Koenig
(301) 838-5880

MdBioLab program contacts:
Stacey Franklin, MdBio (301) 228-2445
Lisa McDonald, TIGR (301) 610-5947
Gary Coleman, UMBI (301) 990-4802