C. elegans is a great model system to teach students laboratory research. In my group, we develop research projects collaboratively: designing experiments, discussing results, performing data analyses, and communicating the impact of our work in a clear, simple, and interesting way.
In Fall, I teach BIL468, NEU468, and BIL668: Developmental Neuroscience. In this course, we look at the molecular mechanisms that allow a single fertilized egg to grown into a fully functioning adult animal. While this course generally focuses on the formation of the vertebrate nervous system, we do build upon essential work that was first done in invertebrate models including C. elegans and Drosophila. The class is a mix of formal lectures along with smaller discussion groups where we read classic papers from the primary literature.
Starting in Fall 2020, I will be starting to teach BIL351, a new, projects-based Molecular Genetics Laboratory course supported by funding from the lab's NSF CAREER award. Students who take this course will learn essential princples and techniques of Molecular Genetics while building and characterizing new 'enhancer trap' Gal4/UAS lines to identify new genes and cells that regulate C. elegans growth and behavior. This work is based on the Mini-Mos1 transposon insertion system and the cGal4/UAS system developed in Han Wang's lab. Students will genetically map new insertion lines and visualize in what cells and tissues the transgenes are expressed. Because each transgene also drives expression of chemogenetic and optogenetic reporters, students will also characterize what happens to development and behavior when the expressing cells are electrically silenced or activated. A goal of the student research is to eventually publish a library of strains bearing distinct single-copy insertions that can then be leveraged by the world-wide community of C. elegans researchers.
We will be working with Debbiesiu Lee in the School of Education and Human Development to help us improve Molecular Genetics Lab student learning outcomes. We hope to maximize the learning and research engagement of individual students while they take the course. If this course development is successful, we hope to add more sections of the laboratory that align the specific research interests of students with faculty in the Biology Department. For example, Dr. James Baker taught a section of BIL 351 in Spring, 2020 where students built a behavior rig for Drosophila so they could identify and characterize new blue light-avoidance mutants.
Each Spring, I teach a Biology section of the HHMI Integrated Chemistry & Biology labs. For several years, I worked with Dr. Marc Knecht to understand how synthesized Cu2O nanoparticles affect C. elegans growth and behavior. We were able to publish the central results of this work in a recent paper. This past year, I worked with Dr. Cesar Gonzalez to develop a new project, investigating the function of Tyrosinases. Students chemically synthesized inhibitors of Tyrosinase and quantified their activity through enzyme assays. Students then used those inhibitors along with C. elegans genetic tools to study Tyrosinase function in vivo.