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New annual course “Experimental Molecular Biology”

In the Fall Semester 2021, the second trial run for the new course Experimental Molecular Biology (EMB) started at the Biozentrum. In this course, Bachelor students learn what it means to work and think in a scientific way. The concept and structure were developed by Jean Pieters, David Thaler, Alex Schier and Dominik Buser. Dominik, who now leads the practical course, gives an insight into the new course.

What was the motivation behind establishing the new EMB course?
Previously, students have only been taught theoretical knowledge in the lectures and seminars during the first years of study. For most students, the first time that they ever stood in a lab and held a pipette in their hands was during the block courses. With the EMB course, we want to get the students involved in lab work much earlier and to spark their interest in molecular biology research. Along with technical basics, they should also develop an understanding for what it really means to do research and how to think scientifically. That is why it was important to us from the very beginning that the students do not simply follow a “recipe” with a known end result for their experiments but rather get the opportunity to work independently and discover new, yet unknown things. To be a scientist requires openness, creativity and curiosity and that’s what we want to teach the students.

How would you like to achieve this?
At the beginning, the students will be given the practical skills and tools for lab work, such as pipetting, pouring gels, preparing buffer solutions or adjusting the pH value. Once they have mastered these skills, they will move onto independent research projects, which we hope will also provide us all with new findings. We study a family of proteins, the Rab proteins, which regulate transport processes in the cell. There are about 60 members of this family and very little is known about the majority of them. In the practical work course, we investigate where the Rab proteins are localized in the cell, how they work and what are their interaction partners. We have the methodological know-how but beyond that we are all exploring new ground. I think it is very exciting to gain completely new insights together with the students. And the project will not just fizzle out at the end of the project, the students in the following year will continue from where we left off.

Who else is on board in the EMB courses?
Of course, the course organizer Alex Schier, who passes on his many years of experience as a scientist and group leader to the students, starting with scientific thinking and reading and discussing publications, to looking at questions surrounding tasks and responsibilities within the scientific world. For our trial run, we are also being supported by Research IT, the IMCF, the Biophysics Core Facility and the Proteomics Facility. Also the student office and the Rooms & Courses team actively supported us in preparing the course. 

How many students take part?
For the test run we contacted particularly motivated students. Ten students now take part. This trial course will be a gauge for us of how well it is received, what works well and what will need some improvement. The annual course will then start officially in Fall Semester 2023. This internship will then be mandatory for all students choosing the BSc in Molecular Biology. Once the course is running, forty 3rd-semseter Bachelor’s students will do research in two blocks on two afternoons each, here at the Biozentrum.