The Steven Johnson Molecular Systematics Laboratory (SJMSL), located in Mary Harmon Bryant Hall, is a shared facility within Biological Sciences available to UA faculty, students, and staff to facilitate cutting-edge biodiversity research using modern molecular methods. Research conducted in the SJMSL spans a wide range of topics, including taxonomy, phylogenetics/phylogenomics, comparative, evolutionary, and functional genomics, population and conservation genetics, and environmental DNA metabarcoding. Researchers using this facility study an equally wide variety of organisms (algae, plants, invertebrates, and vertebrates) from around the globe in habitats as diverse as tropical southeast Asian jungles to the deep sea of Antarctictica. Research in the SJMSL has generated numerous papers in leading biodiversity, ecology, evolutionary, and organismal journals (including Nature, Evolution, Molecular Phylogenetics & Evolution, and Proceedings of the Royal Society B), and has been supported by substantial external funding from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, EPSCoR, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (see CVs of Systematics and Biodiversity faculty listed below). Primary users of this facility include six PIs from Biological Sciences and The Alabama Museum of Natural History (Drs. Abbott, Harris, Kocot, Lam, Lopez-Bautista, and McKain), three professional staff, eight graduate students, and 20 undergraduate students.
In addition to research, the SJMSL facilitates outreach activities by the PIs. These activities have included working with the West Alabama Sierra Club to demonstrate DNA isolation to adults in the Tuscaloosa community and serving as a molecular lab exercise for Alabama high school students with the STEM Entrepreneurship Academy with the Division of Community Affairs Center for Community Based Partnerships. The facility will continue to be used for outreach as part of the NSF EPSCoR-funded Consortium for Plant INvasion Genomics (CPING) project (McKain Lab), in which The University of Alabama serves as a primary research hub.
SJMSL is roughly divided into two equal rooms. The east wing (401a) is used for PCR, sequencing library preparation, fragment analysis, and DNA sequencing and includes three island workstations adequate for four researchers/island and a bench with dedicated stations for fragment analysis and nanopore sequencing. The north wing (401b) is used for specimen preparation, nucleic acid extractions, and gel photo documentation. A small accessory room (401c) accessed through 401b is used as an ultra-clean, PCR-product free environmental DNA lab. The College of Arts and Sciences, Biological Sciences, and PIs McKain and Kocot jointly invested ca. $40k into renovating these rooms in 2019, creating a more open work space to facilitate increasing research activity in the SJMSL. Renovations included removing large hanging cabinets and out-of-date equipment, refinishing the flooring, repainting the rooms, and repairing upgrading the lighting.
Equipment housed within the SJMSL includes an Agilent Fragment Analyzer, Andrew+ liquid handling robot, a Nanodrop spectrophotometer, and a purified water system with deionizer and distiller. Additional equipment includes two fume hoods, an autoclave, a drying oven, a dishwasher with DI rinse, numerous centrifuges including vacuum, chilled, and ultra- centrifuges, gel electrophoresis equipment, and multiple PCR and in situ thermocyclers. PIs are systematically including equipment in grants to further the capacity of the SJMSL (e.g. recent acquisition of the Andrew+ robot).