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News | 15.01.2024

Learning through experimentation

They can not only observe, but also create the entire biotechnological process on their own, going through all its stages. This nationally unique course conducted at the Department of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology at the Medical University of Wroclaw allows third-year pharmacy students to take on the role of real researchers. Usually, the capabilities of similar laboratories are used only in connection with scientific research and not at the university education level. Things are different at UMW.

Alicja Giedroyć

- Previously, we organized such a course for fifth-year students, but we decided to give such an opportunity to younger students," explains the dean of the UMW Faculty of Pharmacy, Dr. Marcin Mączyński, professor at UMW. - Now third-year pharmacy students are already taking a course in pharmaceutical biotechnology in the laboratory. This is a unique form of instruction on a national scale, in which students can learn about biotechnological processes from scratch by growing biologically active substance-rich plant material on their own in vitro.
- Plants, even the most inconspicuous ones, are like a giant chemical factory," says the head of the UMW Department of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology, Dr. Sylwia Zielińska, Prof. UMW, who is giving us a tour of the biotechnology laboratory. - They produce many compounds, some of which are valuable to humans for their medicinal properties. They are used in pharmacy or cosmetology, but to use them on a mass scale, traditional cultivation is not enough. Only under laboratory conditions can unfavorable environmental factors be eliminated, creating conditions for specific plant bioreactors to produce pharmacologically active substances, otherwise known as specialized metabolites. The laboratory of the Department of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology was created specifically for this purpose.

The research topic based on plant tissue cultures in the Department of Pharmaceutical Biology and Biotechnology was initiated by Prof. Adam Matkowski and has been continued for almost 20 years by Dr. Sylwia Zielińska, Prof. UMW, who, among other things, oversaw the project to build and equip an in vitro plant culture laboratory in the new premises of the Pharmaceutical Faculty. Together with her team, i.e., Dr. Veronika Kozlowska, Dr. Anna Jezierska-Domaradzka, Ms. Maria Malicka, M.D., and with the support of the head of the department, as well as the dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy, she continues to improve research techniques and retrofit the in vitro culture laboratory, undertaking numerous domestic and foreign collaborations, as well as obtaining funds from research grants.

The laboratory, used not only for scientific work, but also for teaching, includes culture rooms (known as phytotrons) and smaller mobile phytotron chambers equipped with the most modern type of lighting, temperature and humidity control, allowing control of the direction of the morphogenetic response of cultured plant organs and tissues. In vitro cultures are conducted on a smaller and larger scale depending on the needs. This includes the use of flasks placed on shakers or chain bioreactor systems to ensure the culture regime.

During laboratory exercises, students work on live objects, learning how to initiate in vitro cultures, and then grow selected material and observe the process of production of medicinal substances in them. The best model plant species for teaching purposes are those that increase their biomass many times over in a relatively short period of time and produce large amounts of colorful substances, which are secreted into the culture media. With this approach, students over the course of several weeks are able to evaluate the outcome of the biotechnological procedures they have undertaken to obtain pharmacologically active compounds from living organisms. Material transfer and culture take place under a strict regime of aseptic conditions.

Among other things, students learn how to manipulate a living object for the production of medicinal compounds. They participate in simple procedures based on supplementation of culture media with precursors of target compounds, nutrients or biotic and abiotic elicitors, and learn techniques for transforming plant material with the help of a bacterial vector - the popularly used Agrobacterium rhizogenes.

- Particularly valuable in breeding is the pruritic tissue, called callus, developed by plants at the sites of their wounding. This is a group of histologically undifferentiated cells, but capable of producing biologically active compounds. It is also possible to reconstitute an entire progeny organism from a single callus cell. This is a property of plants that distinguishes them from the animal world, i.e. the so-called morphological and chemical totipotency, an extremely valuable feature in the process of obtaining medicinal substances from natural sources," explains Dr. Sylwia Zielinska, UMW professor.

Authored by: Monika Szymańska-Antosiak Creation date: 15.01.2024 Update authored by: Monika Szymańska-Antosiak Update date: 01.02.2024