Characterizing C. elegans Using Reverse Genetics

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This course is under review for 2021. Course registration will open to accepted students once courses are confirmed.

Course Description

This is a Course-based Research Experience (CRE) class that will provide students with the chance to propose, design and conduct their own research projects, working on topics and seeking answers to questions that are currently unknown to science.

Scientists have been studying cause and effect for centuries. Performing experiments helps us determine the answers to basic questions like "What will happen if I water this plant with salt water?" to more complicated questions like "Will drug A help stop this cancer better than drug B?" In this course, we will be asking the question "What happens to the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans if we alter a particular gene?" This course is a lab intensive course that will provide students with an authentic Course-based Research Experience (CRE). Using the nematode C. elegans, students will have the chance to develop their own hypothesis-driven research question with a focus on genetics and molecular biology. Students will apply microbiological techniques to conduct experiments, perform research that no one knows the answer to yet, analyze the data and present their findings. This approach will allow us to gather clues as to what the function of a gene is, and we can further determine if this gene would be a potential target to design therapeutics for to treat diseases.

Reverse genetics is a useful tool that starts with mutating or deleting a gene to see what it does to the physical characteristics, or phenotype of the animal. The alternative is forward genetics, which is observing a phenotype and trying to figure out what genes are involved. Using gene silencing (RNAi) in C. elegans, students will work in groups to study the function of different genes and how they affect the phenotype of the animal. After using RNAi to cause mutations, we will look for changes in its phenotype, or physical characteristics. The students will be discovering how changing the animal at the transcriptional level can change the phenotype of the animal, and this will allow the students to have the possibility to contribute to many scientific fields.

In addition to becoming familiar with C. elegans work, the students will master microscopy, gene silencing, and molecular and biochemical readout assays such as qPCR and immunoblotting. As the course progresses, lectures will largely be replaced by student-led discussions that focus on the next steps for the experiment. Many research programs use the same techniques and approaches the students will be learning. Students will learn to be collaborative by working in small groups, with each student having individual responsibility for the success of the group. In addition, each group will be focused on one component of the overall goal of the class, which is to describe various categories of genes. The experiments the students design and perform will be repeated a number of times, allowing them to master a number of common techniques.

Finally, a good scientist keeps good notes. Students will be responsible for keeping track of the details of all experiments and results in their lab notebook over the course of four weeks and will be required to present a final presentation at the end of the course. In addition, the results of the findings will likely be prepared for public dissemination through a report, website or other tool. At the end of the course, students will have 1) Developed technical laboratory skills 2) Designed and implemented experiments to answer their research question 3) Conducted extended multi-day laboratory investigations, accurately recording observations in a professional style notebook, and critically analyzing experimental results 4) Reported their scientific findings.

Prerequisites: Enrollment in this course is by special admission only. Upon acceptance to [email protected] students must then complete a CRE application that will be reviewed promptly. This course is open to advanced students 16 years of age and older who are rising juniors, seniors or will have recently graduated. Students will be most successful in this course if they have a strong desire to solve a real world medical problem using critical thinking, hypothesis driven experiments, and data analysis. Students should have successfully completed Honors or AP Biology. Additional coursework or interest in microbiology is encouraged, but not required. As seats in the CRE courses are limited, students are encouraged to review the course catalog for additional laboratory research courses available in [email protected]

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEBI0914
  • Length: 4 weeks
  • Supplemental Fee: $250

Program Information

[email protected]

Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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