They’re the small, molecular sequences that contain instructions for the development of organisms – and the study of DNA could soon become an essential building block for both Missouri Southern’s Department of Biology and Environmental Health and the local community.

Following a presentation by Dr. Gerald Schlink and Steve Russell, a member of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce staff, during the Board of Governors meeting on Friday, Aug. 15, the board approved a proposal to move forward with plans for creating a DNA lab on campus and a partnership with the Joseph Newman Innovation Center.

Schlink – a professor of biology and environmental health at Missouri Southern – proposed to consolidate the research equipment located in various spots in Reynolds Hall into one centralized location. He said that the student research lab on the second floor of Reynolds doesn’t get much use and would make an ideal spot for the DNA lab.

Dr. Gerald Schlink outlined the benefits of a DNA lab during a presentation to the Board of Governors.

Dr. Gerald Schlink outlined the benefits of a DNA lab during a presentation to the Board of Governors.

The testing equipment, he said, is all run by software from a computer lab.

“Students will learn how to operate the equipment and then prepare samples in the lab,” he said. “They’ll use the machinery, set the parameters and then analyze the results.”

By working with the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce and the Joseph Newman Innovation Center, Schlink said the DNA lab could become a valuable community asset as well as a learning tool for Missouri Southern students.

“We can do workshops with local companies who could be using DNA analysis as part of their quality control programs,” he said. “We can train people in that science so they can take it back to their respective industries.

“For instance, the food industry tests for bacteria by conventional methods using petri dishes and looking for colonies. With DNA testing, it takes hours instead of days, and it’s just as exact.”

The DNA lab would also serve as a recruitment tool for potential Missouri Southern students, he said, and could be used during science fairs for high-school students.

“Having a lab there shows prospective students that we are on the cutting edge of DNA technology and that Missouri Southern is the place to study if they want to enter a career in this industry,” he said.

Russell, director of the Joseph Newman Innovation Center, said training offered through the DNA lab could prove a valuable tool for food manufacturers.

“Joplin has about a dozen food manufacturers, and there are 60 in the nine-county region that employ about 8,000 people,” he said.

Economic development officials in the state of Missouri have targeted three areas for growth: IT, life sciences and advanced manufacturing, said Russell.

“A DNA lab at Missouri Southern hits two of those,” he said.

Following Friday’s meeting, Keith Hankins – a member of Southern’s Board of Governors – said he believes the DNA lab and a focus on food testing will be an asset to the region.

Hankins – the owner of Hankins Grain Company in Clinton and senior vice president and general manager of Pennington Seed in Greenfield – said he’s familiar with the importance of DNA testing in the food industry.

“Our products go into the same stores,” he said. “This will be valuable not just for the area but throughout the state.”