The ground floor of Magnolia Hall holds many treasures: a thriving fish tank teeming with saltwater swimmers, research labs with microscopes and biology researchers in white coats carrying trays of test tubes.
But enter the DNA Sequencing Laboratory on the first floor and you’re in the presence of some amazing technology. Witness the Techne Hybridiser HB-1, the LS6500 Multipurpose Scintillation Counter, and the pi?ce de r’eacute;sistance, the 3130x Genetic Analyzer.
Overall, the facility has close to $1 million worth of equipment, said Pavel Lieb, the facility coordinator. The previously mentioned genetic analyzer is itself worth $135,000 while the service contract on it runs $1,000 a month.
“It costs $7,000 just to replace one of the lasers,” he said, “so it actually makes sense to have the contract.”
“It is completely robotic,” he enthuses while pointing out its most visible features. “It uses electro-kinetic injection to move samples to the high-powered laser which irradiates them.”
The lab is sort of a living history lesson in genomics, boasting three PCR machines that are exactly the same type as those used in the human genome project, which was a 13-year odyssey to identify all the genes in human DNA and determine the sequences of the three billion chemical base pairs.
By Lieb’s desk is a special freezer that keeps chemicals and samples at minus 70 degrees Celsius. “Even if the power goes out,” he said, “it takes 22 hours to fully defrost.”
Graduate student Ricardo Rosales works in the lab trying to identify genetic mutations.
“We get people sending us samples from all over the world,” said Rosales.
Most of the services provided by Lieb’s lab are for CSUN departments. “This is a core lab,” Lieb said. “We provided support services so each individual researcher doesn’t have to do it all themselves.”
Biology professor and director of the genetic counseling program, Dr. Aida Metzenberg, is a satisfied customer. The lab does “an excellent job, really state of the art,” she said.
Lieb received his bachelor’s degree in cellular and molecular biology from CSUN. He toiled in the human genome lab of Washington University in Saint Louis and then worked in the private sector for a while before being offered the job to run the DNA Sequencing Lab in 2002.
Being an employee with free tuition prompted him to complete his master’s degree, but he’s finding it hard to make the time to write his thesis.
Since joining the department, he has been instrumental in helping write grants to fund new equipment. He doesn’t teach any courses but does give introductory tours of the lab to Biology 107 students and is also helping a teacher at Canoga Park High School get a biology program off the ground.
The lab provides its services to other academic institutions but not commercial clients.
One of the facility’s best off-campus customers is Dr. John C. Hafner, a professor of biology at Occidental College in Eagle Rock.
“I have enjoyed working with Northridge,” Hafner said. “Pavel is very understanding. We have had a great relationship over the years and we appreciate his personal touch.”
Hafner said he decided in the late 90’s that he didn’t want to set up his own lab because of the expense and the responsibility. He looked at a variety of options and determined that CSUN’s facility would best serve his needs.
“There are even places overseas where people ship (samples) now and get them done for less cost, but I’d just rather do it here locally,” said Hafner.