Research on the Go: Mobile Mitochondrial Lab
Students and faculty are taking innovation to the next level – leading the world of mitochondrial research on wheels.
In June 2018, a team of eight faculty members across the biological sciences, kinesiology, and electrical and computer engineering departments received the established teams Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research (PAIR) grant.
During the months to follow, Wendy Hood, Geoffrey Hill, Andreas Kavazis, Kristjan Niitepold, Bruce Gladden, Mark Nelms, Mike Eddy and John Tennant used their newfound support to turn an RV into MitoMobile – a mobile mitochondria laboratory.
After removing a bed and kitchen appliances, installing additional storage and outer compartments, and debating whether or not to keep the bathroom – the majority vote was yes – MitoMobile is ready for its first trip – a 37-hour drive to the University of Idaho.
On October 4, Hood, Kavazis, Eddy and three students will take to the road in their own version of the War Wagon – driving three days in a navy and orange RV with a large AU logo and a mitochondrial design displayed on the exterior.
Having gone no further than Montgomery to initially retrieve the vehicle, this inaugural trip will be the true test to how well the lab holds up.
“Going to another university is perfect, because if anything goes wrong or we forget something, we are at a location where we can resolve the issues,” Hood said.
In the future, the goal is to use the MitoMobile lab to conduct field-based research.
Prior to the creation of this traveling classroom, Hood and her colleagues stayed relatively close to the Auburn area to conduct research. Now, the door is open to greater opportunities.
“Before it was, what species are easiest for us to do? Now we need the best species because we can actually go to the animals,” Hood said.
Researches have about two hours from the time of collection to study mitochondria. With equipment like a respirometry chamber and a plate reader in-tow, the team can now conduct respiratory function and free radical production, among other measurements, just in the nick of time.
Some of the research MitoMobile will house in the years to come includes how mitochondrial function changes during migration and the continuation of Hood and Kavazis’ current research on how reproduction and lactation influence mitochondria, Hood said.
While at the University of Idaho, the team will touch base with Hood’s former PhD student and Auburn graduate, Amy Skibiel, and delve into the techniques that coincide with the lactation influence on mitochondria.
“One of the really interesting findings is she (Skibiel) found when cows are under heat stress, that it had a negative impact on the performance of mitochondria — all at a gene level, so she found a down regulation of genes that controlled the mitochondria, but no actual measurements of how well the mitochondria performed,” Hood said.
Because of MitoMobile’s cutting edge innovation, Skibiel will be able to continue on this avenue of work, nearly 2,500 miles away.
This is just the beginning of the impact MitoMobile will make both here at Auburn and across the country.
“It broadens the horizon in terms of what projects we can get involved in… we can jump in on established projects — drop in on years of preparation,” said Geoffrey Hill.
The most exciting benefit of the lab – both Hood and Hill agree – is the immense opportunity it will bring students.
“It is a chance to get new experiences doing field-based research, see the world a little bit, and go out and be representatives of Auburn University,” Hood said.