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Senior Brian Ginn studies blood types and DNA for honors project

Submitted and written by Mary Hall (senior, Maryland Heights, Mo.); reprinted with permission from The GlimmerGlass
Posted: Apr 17, 2014

Brian Ginn web 2Brian Ginn web
NOTE: Brian Ginn will present his research project, "Genetic Determination of ABO Genotype from Buccal Cells: Incorporating PCR, Gel Electrophoresis, and ABO Genotyping into Undergraduate Study," during Scholar Week 2014 at Olivet. He is an Honors Program student and graduating with the Class of 2014.

Things are getting a little bloody over in Reed. But don’t worry — it’s in pursuit of science.

Senior biology major Brian Ginn is pricking fingers, smearing blood and analyzing DNA, with the goal of creating a new method for undergraduate students to study blood types.

“The end goal of the research is to have a protocol that goes from cheek cells to [DNA] for undergraduate labs,” Brian says as he drew blood cells on the white board.

The beginnings of the project started two years ago, when Brian began his capstone honors project. He went through five different project ideas before settling on this one: using cheek cells to determine someone’s blood type.

Blood type is usually determined with a finger prick test. The finger is poked with a small needle, and blood from the prick is smeared on three separate plates. A different type of serum is added to each plate. How the serum reacts with each blood sample shows blood type: A-, A+, B-, B+, AB or O.

This is where Ginn’s testing gets complicated. He doesn’t want to just know the blood type, but the DNA behind it. This means another test, requiring gels, electromagnetic waves and ultraviolet light.

But Brian’s goal is to bypass all that, doing the same test, but much less painfully. Cheek cell testing just requires rinsing the mouth and spitting into a cup — good news for biology students who may not want their fingers pricked.

“The goal is to get the students to learn,” he says.

Creating a new experiment method, though, can be challenging.

“You’re often going to do the test and not get the results you want.... Doing something that’s not been done before, you have to start with what you think will work, and go from there.” And although Brian has a new found respect for research, this project has solidified his dreams of being a doctor, possibly on the mission field.

In the past few years, he has been to Papua New Guinea with medical work teams twice. On the last trip, he worked the entire summer in a mission hospital.

“[This project] tells me I don’t want to be a researcher full-time. I’d rather interact with people.”

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