Some distinguished “students” dropped in on MCDB’s new Discovery Based Laboratory class yesterday. MCDB 2171 hosted CU President Bruce Benson, CU Boulder Chancellor Phillip DiStefano, Provost Russell Moore, Arts and Sciences Dean Steven Leigh, and the Board of Regents to see for themselves how MCDB undergraduates are diving right into cutting-edge biomedical research. The course, developed and taught by MCDB professor Tin Tin Su, and funded through a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to the Biological Sciences Initiative at CU Boulder, aims to increase STEM retention by offering undergraduates hands-on lab experience on research projects as soon as they set foot on campus. It brings the drug discovery efforts from MCDB research labs directly into the teaching lab, Professor Su explains. “Our students work in teams to screen small molecule libraries for compounds that may lead to new cancer drugs. This is authentic research, and MCDB 2171 students, most of them as freshmen, contribute to the body of scientific data. They experience the scientific process and take ownership of a research project. I expect their work to be part of future manuscripts and presentations at scientific conferences.”
Before visiting the teaching lab, the CU dignitaries asked for a tour of Professor Su’s own research lab. Their impromptu tour guides were MCDB freshman Annika Gustafson, who began working in the Su lab last September, and senior Angela Delano, a Norlin Scholar who is conducting her honors thesis research in the Su lab. Both students are studying genetic processes in fruit flies to understand similar processes that can cause resistance to radiation therapy of cancer in humans.
“I was really surprised and felt important that they came to visit us,” Delano said. “It was really cool that I got to explain how we can use a fluorescent protein from jellyfish to track mutations in fruit flies.” The dignitaries were also awed, as much by the research as by the fact that it’s being conducted by undergraduates. Delano will present her research at CU’s Special Undergraduate Enrichment Research conference in April. After graduation, Delano hopes to enter medical school and train to become a clinical researcher.