Understanding structure-function relationships is foundational to learning biology. In lower-division courses, students study the shapes and functions of selected proteins and nucleic acids. However, deep understanding of structure-function relationships requires visualizing the structure, mapping information from various biological data resources (e.g., polymer sequence, interactions, mutations, variations) onto the structure, and applying biology and/or chemistry knowledge to synthesize explanations of function. Unfortunately, these activities are not common in undergraduate biology curricula. Collaboration between biology, chemistry, and biochemistry educators to adapt molecular visualization approaches currently being used in chemistry can benefit biology education. To that end, the aim of this project is to establish a network of interested faculty that will create case studies, an effective active-learning technique, to teach the relationship between molecular structure and function. The cases will enable students to visualize and analyze challenging real-world problems in atomic detail and apply their biology and/or chemistry knowledge to develop solutions. These molecular visualizations will provide a platform for integrating knowledge from different sub-disciplines of biology, such as biochemistry, genetics, and cell biology to form the foundation for practicing interdisciplinary, team science across STEM disciplines.This RCN-UBE project will establish a new network, Molecular CaseNet, to develop case studies at the interface of biology and chemistry. Objectives of the incubator phase of this project are to 1) bring together an interdisciplinary team of seven scientists and researchers to develop an exemplar for case-study design and determine format requirements for future case studies; 2) create two model case studies focused on specific biological processes/events and discussed at a molecular level; and 3) present the cases in community workshops and professional society meetings to recruit new members to the network and gather feedback on usability, clarity, and relevance of the case studies. Piloting the newly developed case studies with selected student groups will shed light on the relevance of these case studies in learning biology, chemistry, and biochemistry. By using the planned case studies, students with varied levels of expertise and disciplinary training will have the opportunity to understand molecular structure-function relationships and practice the scientific process to address real-world problems. In turn, this practice will help prepare the next generation of workers in STEM fields to creatively apply interdisciplinary approaches to problem-solving.This project is being jointly funded by the Directorate for Biological Sciences, Division of Biological Infrastructure, and the Directorate for Education and Human Resources, Division of Undergraduate Education as part of their efforts to address the challenges posed in Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action (http://visionandchange/finalreport/).This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.
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