January term – Biomolecular research for first-year students

Posted on October 30th, 2009 by

Through the campus’s recent Howard Hughes Medical Institute award, we are implementing transformative changes to our students’ first-year experience in biology and chemistry. One new program is our January term courses for first-year students in biomolecular research. Similar courses have been offered in the past, but we seek to make these a more regular part of the January term offerings.

This year there are two J-term research courses offered:

1) Dr. Murphy studies two bacteria, Myxococcus xanthus and Cellulomonas flavigena. M.  xanthus fruiting body formation is a well-studied model for understanding the genetics behind the formation of disease-causing biofilms.  Specifically, the goals of this project are to identify new genes required for M. xanthus fruiting body formation using mutational analysis, and to understand the roles of their corresponding protein products at a molecular level.

C. flavigena is a microbe that was extracted from the soil and is a potential resource for bioenergy.  It degrades cellulose, one of the basic products of plants, into usable resources for energy production. The genome of C. flavigena was recently sequenced.  Dr. Murphy has been provided the genome sequence by the Department of Energy.  In this course, we will be annotating the genome and initiating some functional analysis of this organism.

2) Dr. Marz studies the cell biology of circadian rhythms.  Circadian rhythms are approximately 24-hour cycles of gene expression, behavior, and other phenomena.  Research in her laboratory focuses on two core circadian clock protein called Cryptochromes, or CRYs.  Projects in this course are designed to 1) tease apart the CRYs’ roles by defining and examining the importance of specific interactions between CRYs and other proteins, and 2) uncover how CRY gene expression is regulated in different tissues.

Most Gustavus science majors get involved in a research project at some point during their time here. Research experiences are a great way to learn about your field while getting some practical experience and exposure to how scholarship really gets done. Getting involved in research during your first year might seem a little intimidating at first, but these courses are specially designed with first-year students in mind. You don’t need any prior experience (except that there is a prerequisite of BIO-101 or CHE-107)– they will teach you all you need to know to get started! Trying research out in J-term can be a great way to get an experience while not committing to a full summer’s project or trying to fit research in around your classes during a regular semester. Most students who have tried these courses in the past, though, have found they do enjoy research and have gone on to other research experiences later.

If you are interested in either of these courses, contact Dr. Marz (kmarz@gustavus.edu) or Dr. Murphy (kmurphy) for an application form or more information.

If you know of a student research opportunity you’d like to see me blog about here (or if you’d like to write a guest blog post), e-mail me (brussell) and let me know!


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