To stimulate an interest in science children need to be exposed to real scientific research in order to sense the excitement of discovery and gain a feel for what the scientific method truly means. Because of the increasing importance of molecular biology in our daily lives it would also be desirable to expose them to modern molecular biological methods. Finally in order to be widely disseminated any program should involve reasonably inexpensive materials. The overall objective of this Phase I proposal is to develop a method to involve school-age children in real scientific research in order to enhance and motivate their educational science curriculum. Consequently we have designed the experiments described herein to be both illustrative of basic biological ideas and at the same time possible (and safe) to perform in the context of the sixth and ninth grade classrooms. In brief the experiments are designed to generate and characterize yeast mutants in a poorly-understood but important large membrane-bound proton-pumping enzyme termed the vacuolar ATPase (V-ATPase). This enzyme is responsible for producing the acidic conditions found in the lumen of such structures as the yeast vacuole and organelles in higher cells such as the lysosome and the neurosecretory vesicle. Teachers will first be trained over the summer in basic cell biology and the methods used in the experiments. Teachers will then have their students perform these experiments in the classroom. Students will isolate the (plasmid-borne) gene from each mutant after proving phenotype and send it to the P.I.’s laboratory for sequence determination. All sequences will be shared with the students. Students will be asked to predict the consequences of the mutations on the secondary tertiary and quaternary structure of the enzyme (based on a plausible crystal structure modeled after the known F1FO ATPase structure) and to develop hypotheses regarding other residues that might compensate for or exacrbate the initial changes. At the discretion of the P.I. certain of these hypotheses will then be tested by a subsequent group of students. Because teaching a subject has the effects of solidifying what has been learned another important aspect of this project will be the involvement of secondary or middle school children to serve as mentors for elementary school children both in face-to-face learning situations and via the Internet. To share the sequence and assay data to insure that data collection is occurring in the proper manner and to provide expert experimental help for both students and teachers an existing Web site (or e-mail FAX and/or telephone) will be used to link the schoolchildren’s classroom and the laboratory of a scientist (the P.I.) interested and involved in understanding V-ATPase structure and function. We anticipate that dissemination of this program (or similar programs focused on other genes) will be reasonably straightforward. Teachers and students will both gain a strong appreciation of how science really works and we will collect fundamentally interesting mutants in the V-ATPase.
This science education partnership project is between the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and students in the Cincinnati public school system. It is a hands-on and inquiry-based project with the goal of stimulating school-age children in science and developing a method to involve them in real scientific research in order to enhance their educational science curriculum. Teachers are first trained in the area of basic cell biology and molecular biology so they can motivate and engage students in real and state-of-the-art research projects that meet national standards.