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  • Created 05 Oct 2019

Selected Modules

A set of six molecular case studies have been selected for discussion and implementation for this Faculty Mentoring Network (FMN) in the Spring 2020 semester. These cases cover a range of topics in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, botany etc. so please select the one that best fits your course curriculum. Brief descriptions of these cases are included below.

Participating faculty will first be introduced to these cases and all the tools/resources necessary to run the cases. This will ensure that faculty who are new to the disciplinary contents and skills/tools needed for molecular structure-function discussions have the opportunity to read, learn, and prepare. Following this, participants will have the choice to take one of two paths - a. adopt, adapt, and implement at least one of these six cases in their classrooms and provide feedback about this experience; or b. collaborate with others to develop a new case for the Molecular CaseNet on a topic/story that they are familiar with. 

 

  1. Nicholas' Story (link to case)
    • Authors: Shuchismita Dutta* (Rutgers University, NJ), Kimberley Cortes (Kennesaw State University, GA), Henry Jakubowski (College of St. Benedict, St. John's University, MN), Melanie Lenahan (Raritan Valley Community College, NJ), David Marcey (California Lutherian University, CA), Patricia Marsteller (Emory University, GA), and Cassidy Terrell (University of Minnesota, Rocester MN)
    • Overview: This case discusses Nicholas' experiences with sickle cell disease. The case begins with watching a video where Nicholas and his mother talk about living with sickle cell disease. The case is organized into three sections that can be explored independently. Through these sections, the case explores the molecular basis of Nicholas' pain crises, and mechanisms of action and implications of his current treatment with a small molecule drug, called hydroxyurea. It also discusses novel approaches being developed to treat sickle cell disease.
    • Learning Objectives: The case was developed to enable introductory biology students to explore chemical interactions that stabilize the structure and enable functions of biological molecules; and introductory chemistry students in applying their knowledge of intra- and inter-molecular forces to authentic biological contexts. The case can even be used to teach advanced students concepts in biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, such as oxygen binding, drug design, and gene therapy approaches to treat sickle cell disease. There is flexibility in depth of content coverage and range of additional related topics and molecules that can be included in the discussions. By the end of the case, students should develop some basic understanding of bio-molecular structure-function relationships.
    • Molecules explored: The primary molecule studied in this case is hemoglobin. Visualization and explorations of various hemoglobin structures include structures of native, mutant, and variant proteins; and complexes with drugs and various small molecular ligands.
    • Implementation: The case can be implemented using either a flipped approach and/or in-class discussions. In the flipped approach, basic understanding of primary content is acquired by working through the handout and answering the questions and class time is devoted to discussion and interaction with the instructor. Detailed teaching notes, readable scenes, assessment suggestions, and prompts for open ended discussions are available for download to guide the in-class activity.
    • Keywords: sickle cell disease; anemia; fibrils; hemoglobin; mutation; hydrophobic; pain; oxygen binding; anti-sickling; fetal hemoglobin; gene therapy; CRISPR

 

  • Happy Blue Baby (link to case)
    • Authors: Shuchismita Dutta* (Rutgers University, NJ)
    • Overview: This case explores the reasons for why an otherwise healthy infant turned blue, soon after birth. All tests done in the neonatal intensive care unit were unable to diagnose possible reasons for the cyanosis, so the infant was taken to a specialist. The case begins with reading a local newspaper report and an abstract of the scientific report describing how doctors were able to make a diagnosis. Molecular explorations in the case focus on understanding the structural basis of the cause, heredity, and long-term impact of the rare mutation identified in the infant.
    • Learning Objectives: The case was developed to enable introductory biology students explore chemical interactions that stabilize the structure and enable functions of biological molecules. There is flexibility in the depth of disciplinary contents covered and the case can even be used to teach advanced students concepts in biochemistry, such as oxygen binding. By the end of the case, students should develop some basic understanding of biomolecular structure-function relationships.
    • Molecules explored: The primary molecule studied in this case is hemoglobin. Visualization and explorations of various hemoglobin structures include those of native, mutant, and variant proteins.
    • Implementation: The case can be implemented using either a flipped approach and/or through in-class discussions. Detailed teaching notes, assessment suggestions, and prompts for open ended discussions are available for download to guide the in-class activity.
    • Keywords: hemoglobin; mutation; anemia; cyanosis; hydrophobic; Heme; Oxygen binding

 

  • Waking Up Anna: A Case of Hypersomnia (link to case)
    • Authors: Kate O'Toole (Emory University, GA), and Shuchismita Dutta* (Rutgers University, NJ)
    • Overview: This case discusses Anna's sleeping disorder, a condition that was disrupting her normal life. When most of the standard treatment approaches for treating her condition had failed, researchers examined her cerebrospinal fluid and found a substance in it that was acting like a sleeping pill! Understanding the molecular basis for where and how this substance was acting helped doctors develop a treatment for Anna. The case explores the structure function relationships of receptor molecules in the brain targeted by the treatment. It also examines how the binding of other small molecule drugs can impact the function of this receptor target.
    • Learning Objectives: The case was developed for introductory biology courses for undergraduate students to become familiar with scientific literature, learn to use data from various bioinformatics resources, and have a chance to explore chemical interactions that stabilize the structure and/or enable the functions of complex biological molecules. Depending on the details included in the discussions, it may also be used to teach slightly advanced physiology, cell biology, and neuroscience students. By the end of the case, students should develop some basic understanding of biomolecular structure-function relationships.
    • Molecules explored: The primary molecule explored in this case is the GABA-A receptor, that forms part of an ion channel. Different forms of the receptor, either alone or in complex with various small molecular ligands and/or drugs are explored to understand structure-function relationships in regulating opening and closure of the ion channels.
    • Implementation: The case can be implemented using either a flipped approach and/or through in-class discussions. Detailed teaching notes, mini lessons, and discussion prompts for open ended discussions are available for download to guide the in-class activity.
    • Keywords: GABA-A receptor; Flumazenil; GABA; agonist; antagonist; membrane channel; Chloride ions; hypersomnia.

 

  • Evolution of Caffeine (link to case)
    • Authors: Brian Sullivan (University of North Carolina), and Shuchismita Dutta* (Rutgers University, NJ)
    • Overview: This case discusses the evolution of caffeine and investigates why and how coffee plants make caffeine. The case begins with students reading a newspaper article announcing the sequencing of the coffee genome. The case explores the structures and functions of coffee enzymes involved in caffeine biosynthesis. It also explores the biosynthesis of caffeine by other plants (such as cocoa and tea plants) and compares the structures and functions of all enzymes involved in caffeine biosynthesis.
    • Learning Objectives: This case was designed for undergraduate students in introductory botany courses to help them understand the concepts of allelopathy and convergent evolution. Mini-lessons included in the case introduce these concept, while students explore the application of these concepts in caffeine biosynthesis. By the end of the case, students should develop some basic understanding of biomolecular structure-function relationships.
    • Molecules explored: In this case, coffee enzymes that play key roles in caffeine biosynthesis will be explored. The structures of these enzymes will also be compared to that of other related N-methyl transferases.
    • Implementation: The case can be implemented using either a flipped approach and/or in-class discussions. Detailed teaching notes, mini lessons, and discussion prompts for open ended discussions are available for download to guide the in-class activity.
    • Keywords: Allelopathy; convergent evolution; methylation; SAM; SAH; caffeine; xanthosine.

 

  • Piwi Matters (link to case)
    • Authors: Laurel Lorenz (Princeton University, NJ), and Shuchismita Dutta* (Rutgers University, NJ)
    • Overview: Stem cells have the ability to self renew and differentiate. This case discusses how these properties of germline stem cells are regulated by a protein called Piwi, that is highly conserved in many species. Presence and function of this protein is required for producing large numbers of eggs in fruit flies. The RNA binding ability of this protein is critical for its function. The case begins with watching a video about a researcher in this field describing how the role of Piwi was identified and is currently studied to understand its structure-function relationships.
    • Learning Objectives: The case was developed for introductory genetics courses where students are introduced to the molecular structural basis for ovary development. Students learn to identify and access data from various biological databases and integrate information to understand the structure and functions of this protein. The explorations may be expanded to a laboratory exercise where students can develop hypothesis about Piwi's structure-function relationships and design experiments to test them.
    • Molecules explored: Molecular structures of Piwi complexes are explored to understand structure function relationships.
    • Implementation: The case can be implemented using either a flipped approach and/or in-class discussions. Detailed teaching notes, mini lessons, and discussion prompts for open ended discussions are available for download to guide the in-class activity.
    • Keywords: Piwi; Papi; post-transcriptional; germline; self-renewal; conserved.

 

  • A Case of Severe Insulin Resistance (link to case)
    • Authors: Melanie Lenahan (Raritan Valley Community College, NJ), and Shuchismita Dutta* (Rutgers University, NJ)
    • Overview: This case discusses an unusual insulin resistance phenotype where the insulin levels are high yet the individual has diabetes! The case begins with reading a story of two close friends Megan and Jade. Jade's sister is diagnosed with insulin resistant diabetes at a relatively young age. Since Megan is biochemistry student, she is eager to understand what is going on. She comes accross an article in a peer reviewed journal and wonders if the research results reported there describe the condition in her Jade's family. Megan explore the structures of the specific insulin signaling molecule discussed in the paper to understand why it is causing insulin resistance. Students get to explore the molecular structures along with Megan. The case closes with discussions about some ideas for how to handle insulin resistance.
    • Learning Objectives: The case was developed as an example of cell signaling in response to external stimuli (e.g., hormone receptor interactions) for cell biology and/or biochemistry students. By the end of the case, students should develop some basic understanding of biomolecular structure-function relationships and interconnected signaling and metabolic pathways.
    • Molecules explored: The key molecules explored here include inactive Akt-2 protein and its activated complexes with substrates bound to the protein.
    • Implementation: The case can be implemented using either a flipped approach and/or in-class discussions. Detailed teaching notes, mini lesson, and discussion prompts for open ended discussions are available for download to guide the in-class activity.
    • Keywords: Akt-2; Ser Thr kinase; mutation; active; inactive.

 

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