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  • Using QIIME to Interpret Environmental Microbial Communities in an Upper Level Metagenomics Course

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • list and perform the steps of sequence processing and taxonomic inference.
    • interpret microbial community diversity from metagenomic sequence datasets.
    • compare microbial diversity within and between samples or treatments.
  • photo credit John Friedlein. Author (SRB) helps a student troubleshooting RStudio in the workshop session of class.
  • CRISPR/Cas9 in yeast experimental overview

    CRISPR/Cas9 in yeast: a multi-week laboratory exercise for undergraduate students

    Learning Objectives
    Week 1: CRISPR design
    • Locate the coding sequence, flanking sequence, protein product, and characteristics of a given gene from the Saccharomyces Genome Database (
    • Design and defend the design of guide RNA and single stranded template for DNA repair in CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing studies to generate Saccharomyces cerevisiae auxotrophic mutants.
    Week 3-4: Cloning
    • Describe the qualities of the vector, pML104, that allow replication and selection in bacteria and yeast as well as allow expression of necessary factors in CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, including Cas9 and sgRNA.
    • Describe the rationale of and perform procedures necessary for cloning a small cassette (i.e., sgRNA gene) into a vector (i.e., pML104) including; restriction digest, annealing of DNA strands, removal of 5’ phosphates, ligation, and transformation.
    • Recognize and design appropriate controls for cloning procedures such as ligation and transformation.
    Week 5: Screening clones
    • Describe the method of polymerase chain reaction (PCR), including the rationale for essential components of a reaction mixture and thermal-cycling conditions.
    • Locate the binding sites of and design primers for PCR, then report the expected size of the amplification product.
    • Describe and perform isolation of plasmid DNA from E. coli.  
    Week 6: Selection of clones and transformation of yeast
    • Describe the rationale for and perform procedures to transform yeast, including the essential components of a transformation mixture and conditions necessary for transformation.
    • Describe the basic conditions required for cultivating yeast.
    • Describe the rationale for and perform agarose gel electrophoresis of a given size of DNA.
    • Analyze DNA separated by agarose gel electrophoresis, including size estimation.
    • Recognize and describe the qualities of a template for DNA repair that allows efficient DNA repair. 
    Week 7: Phenotyping
    • Design an experiment to determine auxotrophic phenotypes.
    • Predict the outcome of multi-step experiments.
    • Recognize and describe conditions necessary for growth of E. coli and S. cerevisiae.
    • Qualitatively and quantitatively analyze scientific data from scientific experiments, including bacterial and yeast transformation, agarose gel electrophoresis, extraction of plasmid DNA from bacteria, PCR, and auxotroph phenotypic analysis.
    • Communicate science to peers through maintenance of a laboratory notebook, verbal communication with group members, and writing of a formal laboratory report written in a format acceptable for journal publication.
    • Troubleshoot scientific protocols by identifying procedures that are prone to error, comparing recommended protocols to actual procedure, and using positive and negative controls to narrow the location of a potential error.
    • Communicate specific potential or actual uses of CRISPR/Cas9 in science and/or medicine.
    Alignment with Society-Generated Learning Objectives - From Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Genetics Learning Frameworks
    • Use various bioinformatics approaches to analyze macromolecular primary sequence and structure.
    • Illustrate how DNA is replicated and genes are transmitted from one generation to the next in multiple types of organisms including bacteria, eukaryotes, viruses, and retroviruses.
    • Define what a genome consists of and how the information in various genes and other sequence classes within each genome are used to store and express genetic information.
    • Explain the meaning of ploidy (haploid, diploid, aneuploid etc.) and how it relates to the number of homologues of each chromosome. 
    • Predict the effects of mutations on the activity, structure, or stability of a protein and design appropriate experiments to assess the effects of mutations.
    • Predict the growth behavior of microbes based on their growth conditions, e.g., temperature, available nutrient, aeration level, etc.
    • Discuss the benefits of specific tools of modern biotechnology that are derived from naturally occurring microbes (e.g. cloning vectors, restriction enzymes, Taq polymerase, etc.)
    • Accurately prepare and use reagents and perform experiments.
    • When presented with an observation, develop a testable and falsifiable hypothesis.
    • When provided with a hypothesis, identify the appropriate experimental observations and controllable variables.
  • This collage contains original images taken by the course instructor. The images show a microscopic view of stomata on the underside of a Brassica rapa leaf (A), B. rapa plants in their growth trays (B), a flowering B. rapa plant (C), and different concentrations of foliar protein (D). Photos edited via Microsoft Windows Photo Editor and Phototastic Collage Maker.

    A flexible, multi-week approach to plant biology - How will plants respond to higher levels of CO2?

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Apply findings from each week's lesson to make predictions and informed hypotheses about the next week's lesson.
    • Keep a detailed laboratory notebook.
    • Write and peer-edit the sections of a scientific paper, and collaboratively write an entire lab report in the form of a scientific research paper.
    • Search for, find, and read scientific research papers.
    • Work together as a team to conduct experiments.
    • Connect findings and ideas from each week's lesson to get a broader understanding of how plants will respond to higher levels of CO2 (e.g., stomatal density, photosynthetic/respiratory rates, foliar protein concentrations, growth, and resource allocation).
    Note: Additional, more specific objectives are included with each of the four lessons (Supporting Files S1-S4)
  • Hydrozoan polyps on a hermit-crab shell (photo by Tiffany Galush)

    A new approach to course-based research using a hermit crab-hydrozoan symbiosis

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • define different types of symbiotic interactions, with specific examples.
    • summarize and critically evaluate contemporary primary literature relevant to ecological symbioses, in particular that between hermit crabs and Hydractinia spp.
    • articulate a question, based on observations of a natural phenomenon (in this example, the hermit crab-Hydractinia interaction).
    • articulate a testable hypothesis, based on their own observations and read of the literature.
    • design appropriate experimental or observational studies to address their hypotheses.
    • collect and interpret data in light of their hypotheses.
    • problem-solve and troubleshoot issues that arise during their experiment.
    • communicate scientific results, both orally and in written form.
  • Image from

    Air Quality Data Mining: Mining the US EPA AirData website for student-led evaluation of air quality issues

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Describe various parameters of air quality that can negatively impact human health, list priority air pollutants, and interpret the EPA Air Quality Index as it relates to human health.
    • Identify an air quality problem that varies on spatial and/or temporal scales that can be addressed using publicly available U.S. EPA air data.
    • Collect appropriate U.S. EPA Airdata information needed to answer that/those questions, using the U.S. EPA Airdata website data mining tools.
    • Analyze the data as needed to address or answer their question(s).
    • Interpret data and draw conclusions regarding air quality levels and/or impacts on human and public health.
    • Communicate results in the form of a scientific paper.
  • Abelson kinase signaling network. The image shows many connections between genes and illustrates that signaling molecules and pathways function within networks. It emphasizes the indispensability of computational tools in understanding the molecular functioning of cells. The image was generated with Cytoscape from publicly accessible protein-protein interactions databases.

    Investigating Cell Signaling with Gene Expression Datasets

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Explain the hierarchical organization of signal transduction pathways.
    • Explain the role of enzymes in signal propagation and amplification.
    • Recognize the centrality of signaling pathways in cellular processes, such as metabolism, cell division, or cell motility.
    • Rationalize the etiologic basis of disease in terms of deranged signaling pathways.
    • Use software to analyze and interpret gene expression data.
    • Use an appropriate statistical method for hypotheses testing.
    • Produce reports that are written in scientific style.
  • A A student assists Colorado Parks & Wildlife employees spawning greenback cutthroat trout at the Leadville National Fish Hatchery; B greenback cutthroat trout adults in a hatchery raceway; C tissue samples collected by students to be used for genetic analysis (images taken by S. Love Stowell)

    Cutthroat trout in Colorado: A case study connecting evolution and conservation

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • interpret figures such as maps, phylogenies, STRUCTURE plots, and networks for species delimitation
    • identify sources of uncertainty and disagreement in real data sets
    • propose research to address or remedy uncertainty
    • construct an evidence-based argument for the management of a rare taxon
  • Adult female Daphnia dentifera. Daphnia spp. make a great study system due to their transparent body and their ease of upkeep in a lab.

    Dynamic Daphnia: An inquiry-based research experience in ecology that teaches the scientific process to first-year...

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Construct written predictions about 1 factor experiments.
    • Interpret simple (2 variables) figures.
    • Construct simple (2 variables) figures from data.
    • Design simple 1 factor experiments with appropriate controls.
    • Demonstrate proper use of standard laboratory items, including a two-stop pipette, stereomicroscope, and laboratory notebook.
    • Calculate means and standard deviations.
    • Given some scaffolding (instructions), select the correct statistical test for a data set, be able to run a t-test, ANOVA, chi-squared test, and linear regression in Microsoft Excel, and be able to correctly interpret their results.
    • Construct and present a scientific poster.
  • Plant ecology students surveying vegetation at Red Hills, CA, spring 2012.  From left to right are G.L, F.D, A.M., and R.P.  Photo used with permission from all students.

    Out of Your Seat and on Your Feet! An adaptable course-based research project in plant ecology for advanced students

    Learning Objectives
    Students will:
    • Articulate testable hypotheses. (Lab 8, final presentation/paper, in-class exercises)
    • Analyze data to determine the level of support for articulated hypotheses. (Labs 4-7, final presentation/paper)
    • Identify multiple species of plants in the field quickly and accurately. (Labs 2-3, field trip)
    • Measure environmental variables and sample vegetation in the field. (Labs 2-3, field trip)
    • Analyze soil samples using a variety of low-tech lab techniques. (Open labs after field trip)
    • Use multiple statistical techniques to analyze data for patterns. (Labs 4-8, final presentation/paper)
    • Interpret statistical analyses to distinguish between strong and weak interactions in a biological system. (Labs 4-7, final presentation/paper)
    • Develop and present a conference-style presentation in a public forum. (Lab 8, final presentation/paper)
    • Write a publication-ready research paper communicating findings and displaying data. (Lab 8, final presentation/paper)
  • Using phylogenetics to make inferences about historical biogeographic patterns of evolution.

    Building Trees: Introducing evolutionary concepts by exploring Crassulaceae phylogeny and biogeography

    Learning Objectives
    Students will be able to:
    • Estimate phylogenetic trees using diverse data types and phylogenetic models.
    • Correctly make inferences about evolutionary history and relatedness from the tree diagrams obtained.
    • Use selected computer programs for phylogenetic analysis.
    • Use bootstrapping to assess the statistical support for a phylogeny.
    • Use phylogenetic data to construct, compare, and evaluate the role of geologic processes in shaping the historical and current geographic distributions of a group of organisms.
  • Reprinted by permission from Macmillan Publishers Ltd.

    A Hands-on Introduction to Hidden Markov Models

    Learning Objectives
    • Students will be able to process unannotated genomic data using ab initio gene finders as well as other inputs.
    • Students will be able to defend the proposed gene annotation.
    • Students will reflect on the other uses for HMMs.
  • Example image of dividing cells obtained from the Allen Institute for Cell Science 3D Cell Viewer.

    A virtual laboratory on cell division using a publicly-available image database

    Learning Objectives
    • Students will name and describe the salient features and cellular tasks for each stage of cell division.
    • Students will predict the relative durations of the stages of cell division using prior knowledge and facts from assigned readings.
    • Students will describe the relationship between duration of each stage of cell division and the frequency of cells present in each stage of cell division counted in a random sample of images of pluripotent stem cells.
    • Students will identify the stages of cell division present in research-quality images of human pluripotent stem cells in various stages of cell division.
    • Students will quantify, analyze and summarize data on the prevalence of cells at different stages of cell division in randomly sampled cell populations.
    • Students will use data to reflect on and revise predictions.