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Austin Community College

The Biotechnology Program at Austin Community College works with the local bioscience industry to educate students in basic laboratory skills, math skills, genetic engineering, protein purification, cell culture, quality assurance and quality control principles, regulations, bioinformatics, computer skills, ethics, documentation, and teamwork. Students are educated to work in a variety of positions that span different kinds of companies including Pharmaceutical, Molecular Diagnostics, Manufacturing, Research and Cancer Research, Fisheries and Wildlife and Cell Culture.  The State of Texas has adopted the Washington Skill Standards for Biotechnology. The Austin Community College Biotechnology Program was the 1st program in the state to formally adopt these standards and receive program recognition from the Texas Skill Standards Board.  

The ACC Biotechnology Program provides a 2-year Associates of Applied Science (AAS) degree and an Advanced Certificate for students with a 4-year degree.  The program has just been approved to offer a level 2 certificate in biomanufacturing.  The certificate will be offered starting Fall 2013.  The Certificate provides students the basic skills for a biomanufacturing job.  The AAS degree provides students the more advanced skills necessary to be a biotechnician as well as the courses for transfer to a university such as Texas A&M, Texas State University-San Marcos or Stephen F. Austin State University.  The Advanced Technical Certificate educates post-baccalaureate students to work at the bench and is composed solely of biotechnology courses.  Students can also take the biotechnology courses through the Continuing Education Program. 

At the end of the program, all of the biotechnology students are required to do an internship in industry. Ninety-five percent of these students are hired during their internship with starting salaries ranging from 30k to 45K.  Most Biotechnology jobs are salaried first shift work with benefits. 

The Biotechnology Program has a separate preparation room, cell culture, and storage room at both facilities and a shared lecture and instrumentation room.  Students are taught on equipment that will use industry such as Real-Time PCR Machines, HPLC’s, FPLC’s, GC’s, Laminar Flow Hood’s, Inverted & Fluorescent Scopes, Bioreactors and Fermentors, Nanodrop Spectrophotometers and Bioanalyzers.
Faculty requires a minimum of a master’s degree in a molecular science.  Full-time Faculty have doctorate degrees with research experience and experience in industry.  Many of the adjunct faculty come from Industry with specializations in molecular biology, proteomics and cell culture. 


At Austin Community College we have two department involded in the research streams. The Biotechnology and Envronmental Science programs, they can be contacted at 512-223-5915, Steven Spurlock.  

One project addresses the effects of various nutrient treatments and wavelengths of light on the growth/production of algae. The research gives students insight into the effects of cultural eutrophication. The algal cultures are collected from local streams and lakes as part of the sampling protocols taught in the Environmental Sampling and Analysis Class. Samples of the cultured algal will be identified via DNA “fingerprinting” by the Biotechnology Department. 

One project in development will determine the effects of various nutrient treatments and wavelength of light on the growth/production of algae.  The research should give students insight into the effects of cultural eutrophication.  The algal cultures will be collected from local streams and lakes as part of the sampling protocols taught in the Environmental Sampling and Analysis Class.  Samples of the cultured algal will be identified via DNA “fingerprinting” by the Biotechnology Department. 

The second research initiative addresses insect road kill in the local area. Insect traps/plates are attached to student automobiles and the mileage, routes of the vehicles, and general habitats traveled are recorded. The plates are examined in the lab to count the insects killed per mile in different habitats/routes. The number of insects killed per mile, per vehicle is extrapolated to estimate the total insects killed by the cars using the roads in the study area for a give unit of time. The Biotechnology Department will identify the insect families found on the plates using DNA sampling to identify insects most impacted by collisions with automobiles. Students gain an estimation of the impact vehicles have on insect populations, which are a critical part of most ecosystems. This project is being conducted in the Issues in Environmental Science class and now as a project for the NSF STEM Scholarship Grant students.   

Natural Products from Herbs and Spices

Despite all the far-reaching advancements in modern medicine, nearly 80% of the world’s people rely on functional foods, herbs and spices for their medicinal properties.  In the USA, herbal remedies are a multibillion dollar industry which continues to grow by 15% each year.  Modern pharmaceutical companies still explore phytochemicals for medicinal value, from antimicrobials to antioxidants, and ethnobotanists study traditional societies for the herbs and foods that they use for their healthcare. 

In this research stream, students will select herbs, essential oils, and spices to study for antibiotic, antifungal, and antioxidant properties, followed by fractionation and characterization of the bioactive components.

Bioprospecting with Microalgae

In spite of their immense diversity, microalgae are a largely untapped source of bioactive compounds.  The exploration of microalgae for biotechnological applications includes pharmaceutical use, as well as the development of other valuable products, such as enzymes, nutraceuticals, antioxidants, and cosmetics.  They are also being explored for large-scale production of biofuels, biodegradable plastics, and adhesives. 

In this research stream, students will collect microalgae from environmental samples to screen for bioactive products of potential high commercial value, such as antioxidant, antibiotic, and antifungal properties. Extracts shown to have interesting target properties will be further purified to identify and characterize the bioactive components, and the microalgae will be identified by DNA barcoding and submitted to the UTEX Algae Culture Collection.  MS, HPLC and GC analysis will play important roles in this type of research.  Other algal products of potential commercial value, proteins such as fluorescent phycobiliproteins and antioxidant enzymes, may also be screened for and characterized by standard enzyme assays and standard protein purification procedures.

Biofuels Production from Microalgae Cultivation

Global petroleum reserves are rapidly becoming depleted, making the exploration for renewable sources of energy all the more important.  Ethanol production from corn starch has become economically competitive with petroleum fuels,approaching a production capacity of a million barrels a day of fuel a day in the USA.  Currently, 40% of corn produced is being used to produce ethanol.  Concerns about displacing food production with fuel production is driving a new industry for biofuels, with algae as a leading candidate for biodiesel production.   Algae grows faster and more efficiently than agricultural crops, and do not require precious farmland or fresh water for its cultivation. 

Many challenges must be met before algae can be harnessed for fuel production, though:

1.  Strain discovery/development:  finding or engineering strains that grow robustly over a broad range of culture conditions while producing high levels of lipid, resist microbial and insect contamination, and is easily harvested and extracted.

2.  Large-scale production:  finding a platform that allows high levels of exposure to light and that promotes rapid gas exchanges to support rapid growth rates and high productivity levels of algae.

3.  Harvest and dewatering of algae:  finding conditions that rapidly and inexpensively separates algae from its cultivation medium.

4.  Extraction of lipids from algae:  finding an inexpensive and environmentally-friendly method of lipid extraction from large-scale algae production streams; finding an extraction that minimizes phospholipid contamination (to avoid fouling of transesterification catalysts).

5.  Conversion of lipids to fuel:  catalysis of transesterification of fatty acids and separation of the esters from reaction byproducts.

In this research stream, students will explore aspects of biofuels production from microalgae, including the design of photobioreactors, optimization of algae growth and lipid production, and improvements in lipid extraction from algae.

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Research Streams

Establishing Research Streams at Austin Community College

Student involvement in authentic research is touted as one of the best ways to get students engaged and committed to a career in a STEM field.  However, it is only been lately that two-year schools have been using it as an education tool. And doing authentic research, as an educational tool is different than doing authentic research for the purpose of advancing science, its traditional role.

Authentic research as an educational tool means that the main goal is not discovery for new knowledge but engaging and educating students about the science and how discoveries are made. As such, this type of research needs to be structured differently that research for knowledge (ref CCURI)

In 2011 the Austin Community College (ACC) Environmental Science, Biotechnology and Biology Departments committed to joining the NSF funded Transforming Undergraduate Education in STEM (TUES) Type 3 grant directed by Finger Lakes Community College Biotechnology Program. The purpose of this award is to spread undergraduate research initiatives at community colleges across the country. To maximize the use of resources the three departments have agreed to develop research streams that overlap. Plus, Austin Community College has adopted the terminology, “research streams”, used by the University of Texas (UT) to describe its undergraduate research opportunities, as a long-term goal is to share streams across institutions so that ACC students can get involved in UT streams and UT students can get involved in ACC streams.

This is only the beginning……………

Vision and Change Implementation


Integrate Core Concepts and Competencies throughout the Curriculum

  • Introduce the scientific process to students early, and integrate it into all undergraduate biology courses

  • Relate abstract concepts in biology to real ­world examples on a regular basis, and make biology content relevant by presenting problems in a real ­life context 

  • Stimulate the curiosity students have for learning about the natural world

  • Demonstrate both the passion scientists have for their discipline and their delight in sharing their understanding of the world with students


Focus on Student ­Centered Learning

  • Engage students as active participants, not passive recipients, in all undergraduate biology courses

  • Use multiple modes of instruction in addition to the traditional lecture

  • Introduce research experiences as an integral component of biology education for all students, regardless of their major

  • Integrate multiple forms of assessment to track student learning


Promote a Campus wide Commitment to Change

  • Mobilize all stakeholders, from students to administrators, to commit to improving the quality of undergraduate biology education

  • Support the development of a true community of scholars dedicated to advancing the life sciences and the science of teaching

  • Advocate for increased status, recognition, and rewards for innovation in teaching, student success, and other educational outcome


Engage the Biology Community in the Implementation of Change

  • Promote more concept­ oriented undergraduate biology courses, and help all students learn how to integrate facts into larger conceptual contexts 

  • Provide all biology faculty with access to the teaching and learning research referenced throughout this report, and encourage its application when developing courses 

  • Create active ­learning environments for all students, even those in first ­year biology courses

High Impact Practices Implementation

Common Intellectual Experiences


Learning Communities


Writing­Intensive Courses


Collaborative Assignments and Projects


Undergraduate Research


Service Learning, Community­Based Learning




Capstone Courses and Projects

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