Huntington's as an Interdisciplinary Lab for Intro Biology

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Title of Abstract: Huntington's as an Interdisciplinary Lab for Intro Biology

Name of Author: Melissa Kosinski-Collins
Author Company or Institution: Brandeis University
PULSE Fellow: No
Applicable Courses: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, General Biology, Genetics
Course Levels: Introductory Course(s)
Approaches: Changes in Classroom Approach (flipped classroom, clickers, POGIL, etc.), Material Development
Keywords: Project-based interdisciplinary Introductory Laboratory Organic chemistry

Name, Title, and Institution of Author(s): Jason Pontrello, Brandeis University

Goals and intended outcomes of the project or effort, in the context of the Vision and Change report and recommendations: To emphasize the cohesive nature of chemistry and biology while focusing on a few core biological concepts such as central dogma and gene expression, we designed a project-based interdisciplinary medically-relevant laboratory experiment for all students taking introductory Biology and Organic Chemistry. Over 700 students have now participated in this laboratory curriculum.

Describe the methods and strategies that you are using: The experiments have multiple success points, unknown results, emphasize the nature of science, and require the students to develop a reasonable level of scientific literacy by reading primary literature articles in both disciplines. Students taking the organic lab design and synthesize potential polymer inhibitors of Huntington's disease poly-glutamine aggregation using reactions and purification techniques. Following successful purification and NMR analysis of their polymer, students then test the effectiveness of this potential pharmaceutical with in vivo lethality studies in Drosophila over-expressing poly-glutamine (polyQ), GFP-tagged repeats in the biology lab. Throughout both courses, students are asked to analyze their newly acquired data about the pharmacological effectiveness of their new polymer and its potential use in the medical world. This multi-week, interdisciplinary module has been used in our introductory biology laboratory courses for the past two years replacing the traditional single-week laboratory experiences which covered a wide variety of unconnected topics in cell biology and genetics.

Describe the evaluation methods that you used (or intended to use) to determine whether the project or effort achieved the desired goals and outcomes: Students participate in a pre and post content assessment in both courses. The are asked to write a peer review, journal-style lab report at the completion of the courses to evaluate their knowledge of the field and level of scientific literacy. Although the majority of students find that their newly designed inhibitory polymer actually increases the death rate of the polyQ flies, the students emerge from the course with a deeper understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry and a heightened interest in and knowledge of basic biological research. Further, assessments reveal students in this program have a greater understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of biology and chemistry and a deeper understanding of gene expression and inhibition.

Impacts of project or effort on students, fellow faculty, department or institution. If no time to have an impact, anticipated impacts: Since beginning this cross-disciplinary, project-based laboratory module, other introductory science courses have expressed interest in developing similar collaborations. We have begun discussing possible connections that could be drawn between physics and biology.

Describe any unexpected challenges you encountered and your methods for dealing with them: When we began changing our laboratory curriculum from independent, cook-book style labs that covered many different unrelated topics, the immediate faculty reaction was hesitant. Many faculty wondered how our students would learn such topics as metabolism or cell structure if we were simply focused on a single core concept in lab like central dogma for multiple weeks. By reflecting on the current literature stressing depth versus breadth, we were given the opportunity to pilot a project-based lab with the condition that we would be assessing student learning gains heavily in the process.

Describe your completed dissemination activities and your plans for continuing dissemination: We have published several of our laboratory projects in science education journals. We will continue to attend meetings such as NABT and NSTA to further disseminate our work.

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Ariana Boltax for her assistance in this project.