Integration of ERC Research into Undergraduate Laboratory Catalyzes Student Research
At the Center for Biorenewable Chemicals (CBiRC), an NSF-funded Engineering Research Center (ERC) headquartered at Iowa State University (ISU), a newly developed undergraduate laboratory module is intended to engage and excite undergraduates in hands-on student-led research. The module is called “Biorenewable Feedstock: Yeast, let’s plump it up!”
This four-week module, which debuted in 2012, is the laboratory component of the Principles of Genetics course at ISU. Each semester, over 200 students will have the opportunity to develop into practicing scientists and produce novel, publishable research while being exposed to the cutting-edge field of bio-renewables. The students will also be introduced to industrial applications of research, thereby enhancing preparations for their post-graduation career paths. Finally, this module can serve as a blueprint for similar programs at other universities.
The module centers on improving the pathway for building fatty acids in yeast (i.e., plumping it up [see accompanying figure]). Development of this module was a collaborative effort among CBiRC experts (Wurtele and Nikolau) and Iowa State University’s expertise in teaching in the fields of genetics, biochemistry, bioinformatics, and engineering. This is a transformative change within the genetics core curriculum; it represents movement away from traditional “cookie cutter” experiments toward novel research opportunities. Heightened interest and engagement is anticipated as students practice and contribute to “hot topic” bio-renewables research.
A significant strength of this module is in its ability to evolve and expand over many years, based on knowledge gained each semester. The module broadens CBiRC’s impact on the ISU campus by introducing a wide range of undergraduate students to bio-renewables research. It also generates relevant and important data that enhance and expand CBiRC’s bio-renewable research goals.