An Inquiry-Based Laboratory Module to Promote Understanding of the Scientific Method and Bacterial Conjugation †
Students are engaged and improve their critical thinking skills in laboratory courses when they have the opportunity to design and conduct inquiry-based experiments that generate novel results. A discovery-driven project for a microbiology, genetics, or multidisciplinary research laboratory course was developed to familiarize students with the scientific method. In this multi-lab module, students determine whether their chosen stress conditions induce conjugation and/or cell death of the model BSL-1 Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus subtilis. Through consultation of the primary literature, students identify conditions or chemicals that can elicit DNA damage, the SOS response, and/or cellular stress. In groups, students discuss their selected conditions, develop their hypotheses and experimental plans, and formulate their positive and negative controls. Students then subject the B. subtilis donor cells to the stress conditions, mix donors with recipients to allow mating, and plate serial dilutions of the mixtures on selective plates to measure how the treatments affect conjugation frequency and donor cell viability. Finally, students analyze and discuss their collective data in light of their controls. The goals of this module are to encourage students to be actively involved in the scientific process while contributing to our understanding of the conditions that stimulate horizontal gene transfer in bacteria.
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