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Bioinformatics is a BLAST: Engaging First-Year Biology Students on Campus Biodiversity Using DNA Barcoding

In order to introduce students to the concept of molecular diversity, we developed a short, engaging online lesson using basic bioinformatics techniques. Students were introduced to basic bioinformatics while learning about local on-campus species diversity by 1) identifying species based on a given sequence (performing Basic Local Alignment Search Tool [BLAST] analysis) and 2) researching and documenting the natural history of each species identified in a concise write-up. To assess the student’s perception of this lesson, we surveyed students using a Likert scale and asking them to elaborate in written reflection on this activity. When combined, student responses indicated that 94% of students agreed this lesson helped them understand DNA barcoding and how it is used to identify species. The majority of students, 89.5%, reported they enjoyed the lesson and mainly provided positive feedback, including “It really opened my eyes to different species on campus by looking at DNA sequences”, “I loved searching information and discovering all this new information from a DNA sequence”, and finally, “the database was fun to navigate and identifying species felt like a cool puzzle.” Our results indicate this lesson both engaged and informed students on the use of DNA barcoding as a tool to identify local species biodiversity.

Primary Image: DNA Barcoded Specimens. Crane fly, dragonfly, ant, and spider identified using DNA barcoding.

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Crystal Goldyn onto Dry Lab Activities-DNA Barcoding

Three Research-Based Quantitative Reasoning Modules for Introductory Organismal Biology Laboratories

We have designed three laboratory modules for an introductory organismal biology course with an emphasis on quantitative reasoning and data analysis skills. Module 1 tests for dimorphism in crayfish chelae using a paired statistical design. Module 2 tests for allometric growth of tapeworm hook structures using a regression model. Module 3 tests for differences in stomatal densities between two groups of plants using a two-sample statistical approach. For all three modules, we emphasize the use of confidence intervals to draw statistical conclusions about hypotheses. Knowledge about the basic biology of animals and plants is required, including arthropods, platyhelminths, and vascular plants. Background reading on dimorphism, allometry, and transpiration provides the necessary foundation to develop questions and hypotheses. Some familiarity with R is necessary for both students and instructors, although the activities can be modified for analysis with Excel or another statistical package. These modules can be taught independently or together as a unit within a course. As stated in the AAAS document, Vision and Change: A Call to Action, the ability to use quantitative reasoning is a core competency that must be developed by all biology students. These modules address the call for instruction in quantitative reasoning and provide a hands-on active introduction to key tools that will be required to build students’ statistical repertoire in more advanced courses.

Primary Image: A highlight of the three modules used in our introductory organismal biology course, including the use of calipers to test for dimorphism in the size of crayfish chelae (upper right), a leaf impression (lower right) from a hydrangea plant (lower left) used to test hypotheses about stomata densities, and the image of an Echinococcus tapeworm (upper left) to test hypotheses about allometry.  

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Crystal Goldyn onto Labs-Quantitative Reasoning

RNAseq data analysis using Galaxy

This is a bioinformatics exercise intended for use in a computer lab setting with life science majors.

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Box-of-Lessons Review, Fall 2022 - YouTube

A collection of materials related to Molecular Case Net – NSF RCN with Shuchi Dutta

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Sondra Marie LoRe onto Molecular Case Net

Creating an Instrument to Measure Social and Cultural Self-efficacy Indicators for Persistence of HBCU Undergraduates in STEM

The interview in qubeshub.org is based on my paper. This is the first implementation and test of the instrument that I created. 

 

 

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Catherine Quinlan onto Dr. Catherine Quinlan's Work

Why representation matters: Interpreting data to identify factors that affect Black students’ persistence in STEM

This collection shares my work on Black representation in science.

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Catherine Quinlan onto Dr. Catherine Quinlan's Work

Synapse Transmission and Action Potentials

This module introduces action potentials in the context of understanding nerve impulses. It is intended for an introductory biology audience.

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Rachel Skinner onto Anatomy1

Species Range Over Space and Time

In this module, students use data from natural history collections to look at range shifts related to climate variables over different time periods.

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Mike D Shambaugh-Miller onto World Climate Change

Molecular CaseNet Biweekly meeting related (Dec. 9, 2022)

Case presentations

  • Geoffry Lippa (Be careful what you eat: an analysis of enzymatic functional and structural effects due to -amanitin toxicity)
  • Kasandra Riley (Rescuing the Guardian of the Genome)
  • Brian Gadd (Thwarting HIV)
  • Shuchi - Demo of 1D-3D view for a single structure and groups of structures

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Shuchismita Dutta onto Meeting Recordings

Using the Cell Engineer/Detective Approach to Explore Cell Structure and Function

As instructors of introductory biology courses for majors and non-majors, we have struggled with teaching the concept of cell structure and function in an engaging way.  However, this is a foundational concept that most biology instructors would agree is vital for all students to know. The overall objective of this teachable unit is to help non-major introductory biology students learn the names and functions of the basic components of eukaryotic cells and, at the same time, understand the connection between cellular structure and function using active learning approaches. The key component of this teachable unit is a group exercise termed Cell Engineer/Detective. In this exercise, students work in groups to design a cell that is well suited for a function that is provided to them by the instructor (Cell Engineer). The groups then exchange their cells with classmates and try to guess the function of their classmates’ cells (Cell Detective). This exercise helps students visualize how the organelles of a cell work together to perform a specific function, allows instructors to clarify misconceptions regarding cell structure, guides students away from that quintessential but unrealistic model cell found in most biology textbooks, and reinforces the central biological connection between form and function.

Read the Essay Article about how author HN Tinsley adapted this lesson for online in "Online Adaptation of the Cell Engineer/Detective Lesson"

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Abby Wolfe onto Intro Bio Lab

Drawing flowcharts of lab protocols helps students prepare for biology labs

With the publishing of the Vision and Change report, we know it is best practice to include authentic research experiences in our undergraduate science lab classes. One big challenge in teaching so-called "wet lab" classes is figuring out a way to make sure students come to lab prepared to successfully complete their experiments. Molecular biology protocols are particularly challenging as they are typically long, detailed, and have multiple steps to complete. The most successful teaching practice I have tried is having students prepare for lab by hand-drawing flowcharts of the lab protocols. Drawing is a proven way to increase scientific understanding and requires students to engage with the lab materials before class. These flowcharts are due when students walk in to lab and more importantly, students use their flowcharts during lab. This teaching tool is easy to teach to students, simple to assess, and does not rely on any pre-existing knowledge of molecular biology or artistic skill. I have had great success using flowcharts as a teaching tool in both upper division and lower division classes as well as with both life science major and non-major students. Flowcharts have many potential applications beyond undergraduate "wet lab" classes including discussion courses and graduate research projects.

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Abby Wolfe onto Intro Bio Lab

Meiosis Remodeled: Inclusion of New Parts to Poppit Bead Models Enhances Understanding of Meiosis

A long-standing tradition uses strings of poppit beads of different colors to model meiosis, especially to show how segments of paired homologous chromosomes are recombined. Our use of orthodontic latex bands to model cohesion of sister chromatids, and plastic coffee stirrers as microtubules, extends what can normally be achieved with ‘standard’ commercial kits of beads, so emphasizing the importance of four key elements of meiosis: (a) the role of chromosome replication before meiosis itself begins; (b) pairing and exchange (chiasma formation) of homologous chromosomes during meiosis I; (c) centromere (kinetochore) attachment and orientation within/on the spindle during meiosis I and meiosis II; and (d) the differential loss of arm and centromere cohesion at onset of anaphase I and anaphase II. These are essential elements of meiosis that students best need to visualize, not just read and think about. Bead modeling leads them in that direction, as our gallery of figures and accompanying text show.

Primary image: Unassembled components of ‘PoppitMeiosis’ – a poppit bead exercise aimed at student learning of meiosis. Beads are snapped together to model bivalent chromosomes (on the right side), with double-stick tape (top) representing the synaptonemal complex, orthodontic latex bands representing cohesion rings, and coffee stirrers representing microtubule bundles that connect centromeres to the spindle poles.

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Abby Wolfe onto Intro Bio Lab

Exploring the Complexities of Photosynthesis Through a Comic Strip

Photosynthesis is a conceptually challenging topic. The small scale at which photosynthesis takes place makes it difficult for students to visualize what is occurring, and students are often overwhelmed by all of the details of the process. This activity uses a freely-available comic to make learning photosynthesis more approachable and to help students identify their own misconceptions and questions about the process. This activity is appropriate for any college-level introductory biology course and although it was designed for an online class, it could be adapted for in-person learning. In this activity, students work through a four-part online module. Each part consists of readings and videos containing background information on the steps of photosynthesis followed by the corresponding portion of a comic on photosynthesis. Students then use the background information in the module and the comic to identify their own misconceptions and questions and post these in an online discussion forum. The online module is followed by a live session in which the instructor uses the student discussion posts to clarify any remaining questions. Learning about photosynthesis in the unique visual format of a comic allows students to more easily visualize a process that they cannot see with their own eyes. Students enjoyed this activity because it makes learning photosynthesis fun and less intimidating. This lesson is powerful because it allows the instructor to hear from all students in the course via the discussion forum and then tailor the live discussion session to cover student identified problem topics.

Primary Image: Overview of photosynthesis comic. This image comes from Jay Hosler’s comic Photosynthesis or “gimme some sugar” (© 2020 Jay Hosler, used with permission from the author).

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Abby Wolfe onto Intro Bio Lab

Plotting Cranial and Spinal Nerve Pathways in a Human Anatomy Lab

nerve plotting on skeleton

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Yoojin Choi onto A&P

The Avocado Lab: An Inquiry-Driven Exploration of an Enzymatic Browning Reaction

Typical biochemistry labs exploring basic enzyme activity rely on costly, time-consuming protein purification and rarely explore enzyme function in situ. Further, complex purification procedures leave little room for novelty in experimental design. Here we present an inquiry-driven laboratory exercise for biochemistry undergraduates and adaptations for a general education science course. Each student designs a unique experiment to test their hypothesis regarding the nature of avocado browning in a three-hour span. In the presence of oxygen, polyphenol oxidases (PPO) catalyze oxidation of phenolic compounds into quinones, the polymerization of which creates the visible browning of many cut fruits. Avocado fruit, a source of both enzyme and substrate, is a safe, low-cost vehicle for semi-quantitative experimentation. During the incubation, biochemistry students use the Protein Data Bank and primary literature to understand the structure-function relationship of PPO and other molecular components of the avocado. Non-major students discuss how pH, temperature, and substrate availability affect PPO. Visible browning pigments appear on a controllable time scale. Students can photograph results to create a figure to accompany semi-quantitative analysis of experimental results in a single lab period. Since avocados are familiar foods and select test reagents are generally recognized as safe, the optimal protocol investigated in the lab can be further applied to best practices in the kitchen in everyday life, promoting the transfer of knowledge learned in the classroom to practical environments.

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Susan L Klinedinst onto Biochemistry

Unwrapping Enzyme Kinetics

Enzyme rates and kinetics are key components used by biochemists to understand how enzymes function. However, students often find it difficult to understand how these experiments are performed and how they reflect enzyme behavior in solution. The microscopic behaviors which compose KM, Vmax, and other kinetic parameters are not easy to see, hindering clear incorporation of kinetics into students' biochemical knowledge. We describe a set of in-class activities where students act as enzymes in order to clarify the behavior of enzymes in solution and to develop a more robust understanding of how kinetics describe this behavior. In the first demonstration, students observe how the rate of candy unwrapping changes over time in a closed system showing how products can slow the progress of an enzyme reaction. In the second demonstration, students observe how substrate concentration and the rate of enzyme reactions are linked and eventually saturate. A final aspect of this lesson helps students learn how to fit their own data to calculate the kinetic values Vmax and KM. Extensions of this activity to enzyme inhibition and active site structure are also described. Students felt more confident in their understanding of enzyme kinetics and action after performing these activities.

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Susan L Klinedinst onto Biochemistry

Breaking Bricks: A Hands-On Model of Enzyme Kinetics and Inhibition

Enzyme kinetics and the impacts of inhibitors on the enzyme's maximal velocity and ability to bind substrates are important topics in cell biology and biochemistry. However, these topics can be difficult for students to grasp when instructed using a traditional lecture format. Teaching biological concepts using physical models has been shown to improve to student comprehension and engagement with the topic. We have developed a pre-lab activity that uses plastic building bricks and student "enzymes" to expose students to these concepts prior to conducting enzyme assays at the bench. Small groups of students take turns acting as an enzyme that catalyzes a hydrolysis reaction with increasing substrate concentration in the presence and absence of a competitive inhibitor. Students graph brick breaking rate data and make observations about the effect of changing parameters on key metrics. We conclude the activity with a class discussion on their observations. According to survey data, our students show an increase in the ability to answer conceptual and graphical questions correctly after completing the activity and corresponding material. Moreover, the majority of students thought that the activity was moderately or greatly helpful at increasing their understanding of key concepts. This kinesthetic active learning approach provides an engaging and fun way to introduce students to modeling enzyme kinetics and is adaptable to any class or laboratory setting.

Primary image: Breaking Bricks: A Hands-on Model of Enzyme Kinetics and Inhibition. Enzyme-catalyzed hydrolysis of a disaccharide into two monosaccharides is modeled by 2x2 plastic building bricks, with students’ hands representing the enzyme.

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Susan L Klinedinst onto Biochemistry

Follow the Sulfur: Using Yeast Mutants to Study a Metabolic Pathway

Students are frequently overwhelmed by the complexity of metabolic pathways and they think they have "learned" the pathway when they have memorized the individual reactions.  This laboratory lesson helps students to understand the significance of individual reactions in the pathways leading to methionine synthesis in the budding yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae.  Students appreciate that methionine is one of only two sulfur-containing amino acids, and students do not find it difficult to follow the "yellow" sulfur atom in the pathway. In the lesson, students use three different yeast met strains, each of which lacks a single gene involved in methionine synthesis.  Working in groups of three, students identify the missing MET gene in each of the three deletion strains by analyzing the abilities of the deletion strains to grow on several defined media in which methionine has been replaced with alternative sulfur sources. Students also determine the position of mutant genes in the pathway relative to sulfite reductase, using indicator media that reacts with sulfide, the product of the reaction catalyzed by sulfite reductase. For the analysis, students prepare serial dilutions of yeast cultures and spot the dilution series on agar plates. This lesson is part of a semester-long research investigation into the evolutionary conservation of the genes involved in methionine synthesis. The lesson can also be used as a stand-alone exercise that teaches students about biochemical pathways, while reinforcing basic microbiological techniques.

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Susan L Klinedinst onto Biochemistry

It's a Substrate... It's a Protein...No - It's an Enzyme! Teaching Using 3D Serine Protease Physical Modeling Activities to Confront Misconceptions.

Reported misconceptions of enzyme-substrate interactions highlight the necessity for better, targeted instructional tools and assessments. A series of active learning activities with corresponding three-dimensional (3D) physical models were developed to target undergraduate biochemistry students’ conceptual understanding of space, electrostatic interactions, and stereochemistry in enzyme-substrate interactions. This lesson includes two activities utilizing physical models of elastase, chymotrypsin, and trypsin. These enzymes are widely taught in undergraduate biochemistry courses and are exceptional examples of a variety of enzyme paradigms. The Model Exploration activity guides students in an exploration of these models to connect conceptual and visual content. The Problem Solving activity uses two-dimensional representations of the physical models to further build student's understanding of enzyme-substrate interactions. These activities are implemented in two consecutive fifty-minute classes or alternatively combined for a seventy-five-minute class. These lessons are an inclusive, student-centered approach to teaching that enables students to confront misconceptions and promotes mastery of the material.

Primary image: Backbones and Surfaces and Substrates! Oh My! Undergraduate Biochemistry Students Working with the Serine Protease Model Set.

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Susan L Klinedinst onto Biochemistry

Using Bioinformatics and Molecular Visualization to Develop Student Hypotheses in a Malate Dehydrogenase Oriented CURE

Developing student creativity and ability to develop a testable hypothesis represents a significant challenge in most laboratory courses. This lesson demonstrates how students use facets of molecular evolution and bioinformatics approaches involving protein sequence alignments (Clustal Omega, Uniprot) and 3D structure visualization (Pymol, JMol, Chimera), along with an analysis of pertinent background literature, to construct a novel hypothesis and develop a research proposal to explore their hypothesis. We have used this approach in a variety of institutional contexts (community college, research intensive university and primarily undergraduate institutions, PUIs ) as the first component in a protein-centric course-embedded undergraduate research experience (CURE) sequence. Built around the enzyme malate dehydrogenase, the sequence illustrates a variety of foundational concepts from the learning framework for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. The lesson has three specific learning goals: i) find, use and present relevant primary literature, protein sequences, structures, and analyses resulting from the use of bioinformatics tools, ii) understand the various roles that non-covalent interactions may play in the structure and function of an enzyme. and iii) create/develop a testable and falsifiable hypothesis and propose appropriate experiments to interrogate the hypothesis. For each learning goal, we have developed specific assessment rubrics. Depending on the needs of the course, this approach builds to an in-class student presentation and/or a written research proposal. The module can be extended over several lecture and lab periods. Furthermore, the module lends itself to additional assessments including oral presentation, research proposal writing and the validated pre-post Experimental Design Ability Test (EDAT). Although presented in the context of course-based research on malate dehydrogenase, the approach and materials presented are readily adaptable to any protein of interest.

Primary image: Mind map of the hypothesis development.

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Susan L Klinedinst onto Biochemistry

A clicker-based case study that untangles student thinking about the processes in the central dogma

The central dogma of biology is a foundational concept that provides a scaffold to understand how genetic information flows in biological systems. Despite its importance, undergraduate students often poorly understand central dogma processes (DNA replication, transcription, and translation), how information is encoded and used in each of these processes, and the relationships between them. To help students overcome these conceptual difficulties, we designed a clicker-based activity focused on two brothers who have multiple nucleotide differences in their dystrophin gene sequence, resulting in one who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) and one who does not. This activity asks students to predict the effects of various types of mutations on DNA replication, transcription, and translation. To determine the effectiveness of this activity, we taught it in ten large-enrollment courses at five different institutions and assessed its effect by evaluating student responses to pre/post short answer questions, clicker questions, and multiple-choice exam questions. Students showed learning gains from the pre to the post on the short answer questions and performed highly on end-of-unit exam questions targeting similar concepts. This activity can be presented at various points during the semester (e.g., when discussing the central dogma, mutations, or disease) and has been used successfully in a variety of courses ranging from non-majors introductory biology to advanced upper level biology.

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Sequence Similarity: An inquiry based and "under the hood" approach for incorporating molecular sequence alignment in introductory undergraduate biology courses

Introductory bioinformatics exercises often walk students through the use of computational tools, but often provide little understanding of what a computational tool does "under the hood." A solid understanding of how a bioinformatics computational algorithm functions, including its limitations, is key for interpreting the output in a biologically relevant context. This introductory bioinformatics exercise integrates an introduction to web-based sequence alignment algorithms with models to facilitate student reflection and appreciation for how computational tools provide similarity output data. The exercise concludes with a set of inquiry-based questions in which students may apply computational tools to solve a real biological problem.

In the module, students first define sequence similarity and then investigate how similarity can be quantitatively compared between two similar length proteins using a Blocks Substitution Matrix (BLOSUM) scoring matrix. Students then look for local regions of similarity between a sequence query and subjects within a large database using Basic Local Alignment Search Tool (BLAST). Lastly, students access text-based FASTA-formatted sequence information via National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) databases as they collect sequences for a multiple sequence alignment using Clustal Omega to generate a phylogram and evaluate evolutionary relationships. The combination of diverse, inquiry-based questions, paper models, and web-based computational resources provides students with a solid basis for more advanced bioinformatics topics and an appreciation for the importance of bioinformatics tools across the discipline of biology.

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Katie M. Sandlin onto Bioinformatics

Tackling "Big Data" with Biology Undergrads: A Simple RNA-seq Data Analysis Tutorial Using Galaxy

Analyzing high-throughput DNA sequence data is a fundamental skill in modern biology. However, real and perceived barriers such as massive file sizes, substantial computational requirements, and lack of instructor background knowledge can discourage faculty from incorporating high-throughput sequence data into their courses. We developed a straightforward and detailed tutorial that guides students through the analysis of RNA sequencing (RNA-seq) data using Galaxy, a public web-based bioinformatics platform. The tutorial stretches over three laboratory periods (~8 hours) and is appropriate for undergraduate molecular biology and genetics courses. Sequence files are imported into a student's Galaxy user account directly from the National Center for Biotechnology Information Sequence Read Archive (NCBI SRA), eliminating the need for on-site file storage. Using Galaxy's graphical user interface and a defined set of analysis tools, students perform sequence quality assessment and trimming, map individual sequence reads to a genome, generate a counts table, and carry out differential gene expression analysis. All of these steps are performed "in the cloud," using offsite computational infrastructure. The provided tutorial utilizes RNA-seq data from a published study focused on nematode infection of Arabidopsis thaliana. Based on their analysis of the data, students are challenged to develop new hypotheses about how plants respond to nematode parasitism. However, the workflow is flexible and can accommodate alternative data sets from NCBI SRA or the instructor. Overall, this resource provides a simple introduction to the analysis of "big data" in the undergraduate classroom, with limited prior background and infrastructure required for successful implementation.

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Katie M. Sandlin onto Bioinformatics

A Short Laboratory Module to Help Infuse Metacognition during an Introductory Course-based Research Experience

A core competency identified in Vision and Change for undergraduate biology students is the Ability to Apply the Process of Science. Here, we describe a three-week laboratory module for students in an Introductory Cell and Molecular Biology course. The goal of our module is to introduce students to the critical scientific process skill of metacognition early in their undergraduate careers, which is not only important for scientific research, but also for learning new concepts and other types of problem solving. To achieve this, our laboratory module engages students in the investigation of a biological research question while specifically and explicitly prompting students to practice the metacognition regularly employed by scientists. In our research module, students gather information, generate hypotheses, evaluate the utility of different experimental approaches in testing their hypotheses, planning experiments, and analyzing data. In-class and take-home activities prompt students to actively reflect on the information they use to design their experiments and to draw their conclusions. The module has been implemented several times in recent academic years, with two or three concurrent sections of the course taking part each academic quarter. Student evaluations and interviews suggest that this module provides a meaningful introduction to metacognition as it is used in scientific problem solving. Here we present the pedagogical structure of our laboratory module, which could be adapted to engage students in investigating a wide variety of research questions.

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Katie M. Sandlin onto Bioinformatics