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Developmental Biology of a Simple Organism Video Lecture
How do simple cells differentiate, assemble into communities, and cope with change? A video seminar by HHMI Professor Richard Losick of Harvard University addresses these questions in the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus subtilis, a model organism for prokaryotic cell differentiation and development. In Part 1, Dr. Losick provides an introduction to the process of spore development in B. subtilis, including a discussion of the transcription factors that drive gene expression and the signaling pathways that regulate transcription factor activation. In Part 2, which presents research on the capacity of B. subtilis cells to form architecturally complex communities, Dr. Losick discusses the formation of biofilms and gives details of the gene network regulating this process. Part 3 presents research showing that B. subtilis uses a bet-hedging strategy for coping with uncertainty. Dr. Losick provides a number of examples of stochastically determined cell fate decisions in both unicellular and multicellular organisms. Parts 1 and 3 are suitable for undergraduates, while Part 2 is aimed at advanced undergraduates and graduate students. Teaching tools on the site include lecture notes, review and facilitator questions, a feature called “Explain/teach these concepts to a friend,” recommended reading, papers for a journal club, and seven short (one- to two-minute video clips). To view answers to the review and facilitator questions, educators must register on the site as teachers. Users studying on their own should send an email to email@example.com with a request for the answers. This seminar is featured at iBioSeminars, which offers a series of free video talks by leading biologists, with accompanying educational materials.
HHMI Professor: Richard Losick, Ph.D.
Award Years: 2002 and 2006
Summary: Richard Losick, Ph.D., is an HHMI Professor at Harvard University whose research interests include RNA polymerase, gene transcription and its control, and development in micro-organisms. His HHMI-funded educational initiatives include:
A three-part project to improve undergraduate education in the biological sciences at the introductory level—using interdisciplinary and active-learning approaches to improve pedagogy and providing long-term research experiences for students from economically or educationally disadvantaged backgrounds. The project’s components are:
- The FEEDS (Freshmen from Economically or Educationally Disadvantaged Backgrounds in Science) program, which pairs disadvantaged students with a strong interest in science with science faculty to take on a multi-year, inquiry-based research project. The FEEDS students, who are on scholarship, receive stipends for doing their research (during the term and summer). The FEEDS program also creates a community of students who, in turn, mentor other science-dedicated students from disadvantaged backgrounds;
- The development of a more interdisciplinary and quantitative sophomore-level introductory course on molecular biology, Biological Sciences 52. Active-learning enhancements to this course include Web-based molecular biology animations; a bioinformatics module with a student-friendly, Web-based version of the BioProspector algorithm (which identifies sequence logos for regulatory proteins based on transcriptional profiling data); interactive lectures that take advantage of personal response devices technology; and a Web-based series of interactive problem sets in biophysics; and
- The Undergraduate Experimental Biology Program (MCB100), which gives students a chance to experience how science is done through the practice of experimental inquiry and to forge ties between Harvard research faculty and undergraduates. Students are divided into small teams; each team is assigned to a different project tied to ongoing research in the labs of participating faculty members. The program has been institutionalized at Harvard College and is now a self-sustaining part of the curriculum.