Dr. Tom Benoit has his students taking a deeper look into a topic that all-too-many college students have a great interest in – fermentation. As part of his BIMS 1300 Introduction to Scientific Research class, his students are not focusing on the suds-producing process of alcoholic beverage production but instead on the metabolic process of fermentation conducted by yeast cells when given a ready source of useable carbohydrate. Benoit’s class is exploring the impact of modifying a broth medium on the fermentation rate of the common bread yeast, Saccharomyces ellipsoideus. Students are challenged to make modifications to environmental conditions and nutrients in the growth media to see how they impact growth rates, as evidenced by the carbon dioxide production in fermentation tubes. One group is looking at artificial sweeteners based on sugars and comparing growth to that from sucrose, as an example of the type of work being done.
The true value of the work is not in the results they obtain – those things are already known to science. However, they are not necessarily known to these students, and so pursuing this line of investigation helps sharpen their skills in defining a problem, posing interesting questions, designing controlled experiments, and analyzing results. They also sharpen their lab skills by having to set up and conduct a controlled study. Such preparation is essential to insure that they are ready for the moments in future classes when they are charged with designing experiments that delve into the unknown, whether that is in studying medical bacteria, cancer cells, gene sequences, or some other common project in the BIMS program.