A Protein Centric CURE That Promotes Student Collaborations Across Different Universities

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Poster Presentation

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The benefits of undergraduate research are widely appreciated, however the predominant model for undergraduate research is the apprenticeship model, which is difficult to scale up to include all students. Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) are high-impact pedagogical approaches to teach students critical skills and increase access to research experiences. The Malate Dehydrogenase CUREs Community (MCC) has developed a curriculum that incorporates quantitative, authentic protein-based research into a teaching lab. Students use facets of molecular evolution and bioinformatics approaches involving protein sequence alignments, 3D structure visualization and pertinent background literature to construct a novel hypothesis about the role of a specific amino acid in the activity of Malate dehydrogenase. The students than develop a research proposal to explore their hypothesis using traditional wet-lab techniques: site-directed mutagenesis, affinity chromatography, SDS-PAGE, and activity assays/kinetic analyses. One of the challenges in providing an authentic research experience is an inability to recreate the collaborative nature of science in the classroom. Students need to work with their partners and others members of the class but collaborations need to extend beyond scientists in the same laboratory. In today’s interdisciplinary world collaborations exist between institutions and even encompass global partnerships. Over the course of a semester we sought to promote collaboration between students taking Biochemistry lab from our respective institutions (St. John Fisher College and University of San Diego). The first step in this collaboration process was to match groups from the different institutions with similar projects. All student groups were required to develop and present their hypothesis to the students/instructor in their home institution as well as from the instructor from the collaborating institution who skyped in during the presentations. The instructors then matched groups with similar projects and connected them over email. In this email it was made clear that the expectation was that they would share their respective proposals and communicate throughout the course of the semester. This sort of interaction has obvious benefits in terms of communication and critical thinking for the students, but there is also a very practical aspect to collaboration, specifically the ability to extend and/or expand the techniques used to address a scientific question. The USD students performed Circular Dichroism experiments on protein prepared by their SJFC collaborators and SJFC students performed native PAGE and BS3 cross-linking experiments on USD proteins. We found that this sharing of data between the institutions was a great catalyst for student collaboration, more so than the sharing of proposals. Informal assessments and observations by the instructors indicate that the collaborative CURE was quite successful in providing the students with an authentic research experience.


Poster presented at the 2019 Experimental Biology Meeting in Orlando Florida in April 2019. The abstract was published in The FASEB Journal, 33(1_Supplement), Abstract Number:617.7 April 2019: https://www.fasebj.org/doi/abs/10.1096/fasebj.2019.33.1_supplement.617.7

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