Research Communications

Genomics Facility celebrates five years of biological research advances 

May 1, 2012

Located on the top floor of Porter Hall, the Genomics Facility may be unfamiliar to some Ohio University faculty and students, but for those who conduct research on genetic issues—from plant biology and human pathogens to the biological roots of social anxiety —the facility has made a big impact on their work since its launch five years ago.

Established with a grant from the National Science Foundation, the facility specializes in DNA sequencing, fragment analysis and gene expression studies. It generates new data for researchers on campus, allowing them easy access to equipment and support from Director Vijay Nadella. He’s responsible for overseeing the research that goes on at the facility and supervising the technicians, interns and graduate students that work on the samples.

“We have a wide variety of researchers on campus, and many need to address some genetic component of their research,” Nadella says. Anywhere from 10 to 20 studies may occur at a time, on issues ranging from diabetes and cancer to chemical engineering and psychology.

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Genomics Facility Director Vijay Nadella works with faculty from a wide range of schools and departments on campus. Photo Credit: Ben Siegel.

Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Shawn Chen has used the facility in the past for gene expression analysis, and continues to use it regularly for molecular research. “DNA sequencing is the essential part of modern molecular biology. Without it, if we send samples to a service lab outside the campus, we can’t afford the time. It may also cost more,” he says.

Time and cost are two huge advantages of having the facility on campus. Currently the facility only charges a fee for consumables. Prior to its establishment, researchers had to send their samples to other universities for testing, often resulting in long waits. It’s not financially feasible for individual labs to purchase and maintain this equipment, but a core facility on campus can offer a range of resources and services to fulfill the needs of different experiments.

One recent example is the facility’s new partnership with the Innovation Center, Ohio University’s biotech and high-tech business incubator. Joe Jollick, director of the center’s Biotechnology Research and Development Facility, worked with Nadella to acquire the necessary funding and grants to purchase a new ion torrent personal genome sequencer. The sequencer uses semiconductor chips to sequence DNA and identify where certain gene sequences are abnormal. The sequencer is now available for use by Ohio University researchers and Innovation Center companies.

The on-site location also encourages researchers to try new methods. Morgan Vis, a professor of environmental and plant biology, has published seven papers with the use of the facility, which has allowed her to explore gene sequencing.

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Genomics Facility Laboratory Technician Rachel Arnold sequences plant RNA. Photo Credit: Ben Siegel.

“This technology is expensive, and I don’t feel I know enough about it to be successful on my own,” she says. “I would not have invested in it without having the personal interaction of our facility.”

Another benefit of the genomics facility is the learning opportunity for Ohio University students. The facility hires one to two PACE students each year, and they’re trained through Nadella or the technicians according to their interests. Shannon Clay, a former PACE student, says she learned a lot and enjoyed working at the facility.

“I also developed a lot of confidence in my ability to work in a lab. It was always a great feeling to come back in after putting samples in the sequencer and getting to see a batch of really good sequencing readouts,” Clay says.

Experience in the facility can demystify research and help with student career growth, Nadella says. The students often leave with ideas for their own research and go on to different labs or graduate schools.

Diana Roberts, currently a doctoral student at the University of Missouri, worked as an undergraduate technician in the lab from 2007-2008. During her time at the genomics facility she set up and ran the DNA sequencing reactions. “The thing that has probably aided me most was learning to troubleshoot and learning to help others troubleshoot,” she says.

With a successful track record in faculty research and student training, the future of the genomics facility looks promising.

“We’ll definitely be here, providing more and better services to our researchers,” Nadella says. “We can help our researchers get more grants and help our students land good jobs or go to better schools.”

For more information about the Genomics Facility, visit

By Jessica Salerno

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