January 31, 2012
School of Biotechnology, Amritapuri
Amrita faculty recently authored a book chapter on Biotechnology Virtual Labs, which is included in book titled Innovations in Biotechnology. The book will be published by InTech, an open access publisher of scientific books and journals in Europe.
The book discusses cancer and stem cell research, genetic engineering and cloning, genetic variation, genomics, proteomics, nanobiotechnology, bioinformatics, bioprocess research and development, among other topics.
“The book provides a comprehensive overview of novel aspects and methods used in biotechnology. Some chapters present comprehensive information about research and technological advances; some others discuss cultural and legal aspects of biotechnological research,” explained Dr. Shyam Diwakar, Assistant Professor, School of Biotechnology.
Dr. Shyam co-authored the Amrita chapter together with his Amrita colleagues, Dr. Krishnashree Achuthan, Ms. Prema Nedungadi and Dr. Bipin Nair.
Titled Biotechnology Virtual Labs: The role of e-learning in enhancing laboratory access for classroom education, facilitating anytime-anywhere access, the chapter draws from Amrita’s experience in building virtual labs as part of an MHRD funded effort.
Amrita University is contributing to a multi-university effort to develop virtual labs in many disciplines including biotechnology. Establishing these virtual labs requires both domain knowledge and virtualizing skills via programming, animation and device-based feedback.
“Biotechnology education involves extensive laboratory practice due to the eclectic nature of its topics and disciplines,” elaborated Dr. Shyam.
“Topics such as cell biology, immunology, microbiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, population ecology and biophysics all require lab support. Labs require equipment and trained personnel. Many Indian colleges do not have extensive laboratory facilities, so virtual labs provides an effective answer,” he added.
The first part of the chapter explains virtual labs, outlining the need for countries like India to use them as complementary aids to traditional classroom instruction. The chapter then showcases adaptive e-learning technologies that can help a student learn at his or her own pace. Finally the chapter includes case-studies of functional virtual labs that have already been developed.
“Our chapter introduces a cost-effective process for laboratory education through virtualizing real biotechnology labs.”
“In our virtual labs, we used different approaches viz. a mathematical simulator, animation or remote-triggering of experiments. At the postgraduate and undergraduate levels, immunology courses prefer a hypothesis-based approach whereas cell biology chooses a deductive approach. Population ecology uses a simulator-based approach while some others like biochemistry and molecular biology labs have a hybrid style. The choice of an apt method to suit the nature of the discipline is critical for virtualization of a laboratory.”
“Major challenges with the virtualization aspect are usage/design scalability, deliverability efficiency, network connectivity issues, security and speed of adaptability to incorporate and update changes into existing experiments.”