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DNA education

Monash University’s Genomics facility doesn’t just generate sequencing data for its clients, but the team also trains and educates the community.

Experts in long-read and whole genome sequencing, the good folk at Micromon love to share their knowledge, and have access to the best in expertise and facilities to do so. Home to the world’s longest-running molecular biology short-course, Micromon has helped educate research staff and PhD students from around the country for the past 30 years.

The six-day workshop explores the fundamentals in molecular biology techniques, covering the skills required for recombinant DNA technology and how they are changing the future of genomics research.

Facility manager, Mark Cauchi, says that the popular short-course was the reason Micromon – now one of the centrally managed Monash Technology Research Platforms (MTRP) – came into inception.

“Monash wanted to commercialise the expertise of the Department of Microbiology,” he says. “They started out in 1986 by offering this and other specialist workshops, but this is the one that’s endured.”

Through Micromon’s relationship with the university’s Microbiology Department, Cauchi is able to call on the expertise of the department’s experienced lecturers who present the raft of topics and the talented PhD students for the skills training and hands-on part of the course.

The hard work that goes into running the workshop clearly pays off. As one participant from the University of Queensland phrased it: “‘The genuine excitement for the molecular world displayed by the orchestrators of the course is palpable and contagious!”’

Not limiting their expertise and enthusiasm to researchers, Micromon also participates in community outreach programs. One of these was a recent virtual presentation to Year 10 students from around Victoria as part of the Emerging Sciences Victoria Program.

“John Monash Science School invited us to give a genomics presentation using their digital broadcasting studio,” explains Cauchi. “They wanted people working in the industry to give the young students an idea of what the industry is like. We talked to them about human genome sequencing, how sequencing is applied in a research environment, technical issues involved and trends for the future.”

Such presentations aim to encourage students to study science in upper levels of high school. The students were also encouraged to ask questions which they did throughout the session. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the top questions were: How much does it cost to sequence a human genome? and How much money does a scientist earn?

Backing up their role in education is Micromon’s core business of Sanger and Next-generation Sequencing, along with an array of other genomics-based services. Unique to Australia, and possibly to the world, is their efficient DNA synthesis–sequencing pipeline service.  

“We are a one-stop-shop for DNA sequencing linked with the production of custom sequencing primers,” Cauchi explains. “The moment the primers are available post-synthesis, they are used directly in the cycle sequencing reactions and the turnaround time is unsurpassed.”

From Cauchi’s point of view, as a member of the MTRP network, the support provided to Micromon by the MTRP at Monash is invaluable.

“They provide us with professional training in administration and business as well as marketing support,” he says. “But most important is the quality management requirements under the globally recognised ISO9001, which they are implementing across all platforms, to ensure we all operate with a set management standard and level of quality assurance.”