MCB 2225: Cell Biology Laboratory

Instructor: David Knecht

Prerequisite: BIOL 1107 or equivalent

Many Honors students in the life sciences have benefited from MCB 2225, Cell Biology Laboratory.  The laboratory is designed to help students decide if they are interested in research and to prepare them for working in a research laboratory. Students will become proficient with experimental design, quantitative data analysis, and data presentation in the context of learning to work with living cells.  Like a research laboratory, the course laboratory is accessible 24/7 because real science often does not fit into 3 hour time blocks.

Students do not need an extensive knowledge of cell biology in order to succeed in the class.  The background cell biology for each experiment will be discussed in class and a general protocol will be provided.  Students working in pairs will then design the details of the specific experimental question, develop a protocol including the necessary controls, carry out the experiment and then analyze the data.  Experiments are often repeated outside of class time as student researchers fine-tune their technique or protocol.  The results are then discussed in a “group meeting” so that each group can see how others approached related problems. There is great flexibility for students to branch out from the starting point provided to take the experiment in a direction that is of interest to the student.

Students will maintain their own wild type and mutant cell lines throughout the semester.  The laboratory is equipped with computer controlled video microscope workstations for acquiring data on cell behavior. The experiments will focus on the growth, motility, development and underlying cellular structure of the soil amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum.  Many of the experiments will ask questions about how cells move and respond to signals both in unicellular and multicellular environments.  Students will transfect cells DNA to express fluorescent probes (GFP and RFP) and investigate the role of the cytoskeleton in cell motility and signaling. Flow cytometry and confocal microscopy will also be used to analyze cells.  Open source image processing software (Fiji/ImageJ) will be used to analyze the data captured from the microscope.   One emphasis of the course will be on the quantitative analysis of image data.

In the last third of the course, students will work on independent projects of their choosing.  Often these projects involve investigation of mutant cell lines available from a National Stock Center or cells isolated from the local environment.

Unlike many courses that aim to teach science concepts, this course puts an emphasis on teaching students to think like a scientist. The class size is small and there is ample opportunity for individual attention from the instructor and TA. This course will provide students with specific skills and experience that will aid them in applying to any laboratory in MCB (and other departments) for Honors thesis research. There is also the possibility of continuing these projects as Honors thesis research in the instructor’s research laboratory as many of the experiments conducted in the class are an outgrowth of ongoing research projects.