Students in my Microbiology class this fall have a treat in store. Instead of disconnected labs to teach the main principles of aseptic technique and identifying bacteria, students in this course are going to learn by doing research. I have planned five research projects the student research teams will undertake: conducting an air quality survey of campus buildings, screen fresh vegetables and fruits for E. coli, search for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) on campus, isolate endospore-formers and their bacteriophage from nature, and have groups design and conduct a research study of their own using the knowledge and skills learned.
One of these represents a first for our students – the MRSA study. Our plan is to obtain nasal swabs from around 100 students on campus and compare the frequency of Staphylococcus aureus (SA) and MRSA among groups and with previous reports nationally. Student research groups will collect nasal swabs and screen for SA and MRSA, identifying the most interesting isolates using our BD Crystal(TM) Rapid ID system. They will analyze the data from a survey of participants and the results from the lab to see if on-campus residents differ in SA/MRSA occurence from off-campus residents, athletes vs. non-athletes, etc. The results should be interesting!
Because we will be doing research involving human subjects, special approval is required from the campus oversight group: the Institutional Review Board, or IRB. Their job is to review proposed campus research to make sure it is ethical, responsible, and conforms to national standards for acceptable scientific research. It is a first for me, since my lab research is typically environmentally-focused (bacteria don’t have to give informed consent!). The “homework” required for the IRB is extensive – several federal reports and statutes to review, an online course through NIH for certification of training (yes, I missed a question!), and then a form that asks all the hard questions needed to insure the research is well-thought, useful, and safe for all. Reading the prescribed materials, thinking through how the project was structured in light of the training, going through the NIH course, and filling out the form took me the better part of three days.
This bunny trail has been educational and informative, so much so that I’ll have all the Microbiology students go through the online training before they start the study in late September. To know the trouble our scientific community goes through to protect the rights and dignity of its individuals is eye-opening and reassuring. Sometimes things of great educational benefit are not on the main thoroughfares of our courses. Oh, and ask those college sophomores you know whether they’ve done anything as exciting as this in their science classes!
Here are some things that are happening in the BIMS program this summer.
1. BIMS 1300. Introduction to Scientific Research is the first BIMS course taken by freshmen. It is an introduction to thinking about science in a different way – science as a process to engage in, not a bunch of facts to memorize. Dr. Tom Benoit is busy this summer adjusting its approach based on last year’s initial version to make it even more successful. The seminar portion will be completely re-done to expose students to what’s new in biomedical sciences around the world.
2. BIOL 1301. Unicellular Organisms is Dr. Benoit’s other course this fall. The course is so unique that finding an appropriate textbook is difficult. Expect the course to adjust its approach slightly to focus more on how cells work in order to emphasize what’s common to unicellular organisms, rather than on differences between various species.
3. BIOL 3410. Dr. Wilson is completely re-doing Microbiology this summer. The lecture will be aligned more closely with the textbook to help students study for exams, and the lab will feature 4-5 research projects within which all skills and knowledge for the lab portion of the course will be taught. Two projects will be a survey of fresh foods for the presence of coliforms and a survey of McMurry students for the presence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
4. BIOL 3460. Genetics will jump into high gear this year as Dr. Heidi DiFrancesca begins to orient students to the use of molecular biology technology at our disposal. Expect use of the DNA sequencer and rt-PCR in the lab.
5. BIMS 4320 and BIMS 4250. Junior and senior level BIMS courses will benefit from new equipment to support student research projects, and from a year of maturity in the program. Dr. D had students get the lab going last year and took baby steps in bringing it up to full capacity. This year we’ll hit the ground running.
6. BIMS 4201. The capstone course has been restructured to allow students to sign up with a BIMS faculty member to work on a project in their area of expertise. We can expect a wider variety of research projects this year as students join the research in their areas of interest. Cancer research, genetic engineering, bacterial spore physiology, and public health should all be represented by the end of the year.
The BIMS faculty will hold a retreat this summer to focus and connect our efforts. More updates will be coming on other aspects of BIMS improvements made this summer.