Using a Molecular-Genetic Approach to Investigate Bacterial Physiology in a Continuous, Research-Based, Semester-Long Laboratory for Undergraduates †
Designing investigative laboratory exercises that encourage critical thinking, problem solving, and independent thought for upper-division biology courses is a difficult but worthwhile task. In an effort to do so, we developed a semester-long, continuous, research-based investigative laboratory that integrates numerous genetic and molecular biology methods into the investigation of a bacterial physiological process. In this lab, students use random Tn5 transposon mutagenesis to create prodigiosin pigment mutants in the bacterium, Serratia marcescens. This is followed by phenotypic characterization, cloning, and sequencing the Tn insertion site to identify genes involved in pigment biosynthesis. During this lab, students gain ample experience performing basic lab techniques while learning about — and applying — methods for elucidating gene function. The approach to the laboratory and the outcomes are intimately integrated into the teaching of many fundamental physiological processes underlying prodigiosin production in bacteria. The result is a cohesive course that integrates the theory and application of molecular genetic techniques with the study of bacterial physiology. Assessments of student learning objectives demonstrated that students greatly improved their understanding of both physiological processes and the genetic techniques used to investigate them. In addition, students felt that this semester-long exercise provided the necessary laboratory experience they needed and desired in preparation for careers in molecular biology, microbiology, and biochemistry.
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