Lower Rio Grande Valley science teachers will soon be able to use expensive scientific equipment at a nominal fee to teach biotechnology to their students, according to scientists at the Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Weslaco.

"Within a few weeks we will be providing the equipment and training to local teachers so that they can teach their students the cutting-edge technologies of today's modern biology laboratory," said Dr. Javier Gonzalez, a post-doctoral research associate with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.

"This will allow schools to teach the kinds of labs that will fast-forward the biology education of students to prepare them to thrive in the Gene Age," he said.

The training and equipment loan program will be offered by the Weslaco Center in collaboration with the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory near New York City. This non-profit agency studies the genetic basis of animal and plant development, human cancer and mental disorders, Gonzalez said.

"Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory's educational branch, the Dolan DNA Learning Center, with funding from the National Science Foundation, has put together laboratory equipment that will be housed here at the Weslaco Center and made available to teachers in the Valley at a minimal charge," Gonzalez said.

Instead of spending more than $10,000 to purchase equipment, participating schools will purchase only the consumables needed in such a laboratory, and a small fee for shipping and replenishing, he said.

"Those nominal costs will range anywhere from $20 to $200, depending on usage, but it's minor compared to the costs of buying this equipment and the knowledge that will be imparted to local students," Gonzalez said.

In 2004, Gonzalez spent three weeks at the CSHL's lab facilities in New York to learn about its research programs and the educational outreach programs of the Dolan DNA Learning Center.

In 2005, experts from Dolan joined Gonzalez in Weslaco to teach a week-long workshop for 20 biology teachers from throughout the state.

"This is another example of how we at the Weslaco Center are working to develop the next generation of scientists and technicians by working with local schools," said Dr. Michael Gould, director of the Weslaco Center.

"Fortunately, we've been successful in acquiring these and other resources to help students here in the Rio Grande Valley gain access to these exciting and rewarding careers," he said.

Schools or school districts wanting to participate in the program must send a representative to a workshop on March 25-26 at the Weslaco Center. Participants will be trained in the use of the equipment, consisting of a PCR machine, centrifuge, UV-lightbox, pipettes, a digital camera and pre-cast agarose gels.

Under the guidance of expert instructors from Texas A&M and the New York laboratory, participants will use the equipment to conduct one of many experiments it can be used for, including the examination of plants and foods to determine whether they have been genetically modified.

The workshop starts with breakfast on March 25 and ends at noon the following day. Participants will receive a $100 stipend, payable upon completion of the workshop.

"We need to get teachers signed up as soon as possible, so please contact us at your earliest convenience," Gonzalez said.

Online registration is available at http://www.dnalc.org/educatorapps/. Or contact Gonzalez at 956-968-5585, or email jrgonzalez@ag.tamu.edu.