The Brock Grill Laboratory at the Scripps Research Institute Florida

 

Resources for Teachers

As an ongoing part of an NSF funded research project, my lab has initiated high school outreach programs. Initially, this was done in Minnesota. Outreach is now active in Florida, and more specifically in Palm Beach County.  

My lab’s research program focuses on using the microscopic nematode, C. elegans, as a model system to understand the basic molecular mechanisms that regulate axon and synapse development.

C. elegans is an ideal organism for in-class, high school level experiments because it is: 1) non-pathogenic, 2) easy to cultivate, 3) inexpensive to work with and maintain, and 4) ideally suited for highlighting some of the basic principles in genetics and neuroscience.

 

Below are brief outlines for a series of experiments that I’ve designed for high school teachers. More detailed experimental methods, teachers note, and evaluation sheets can be downloaded as Microsoft Word and PDF files for each experiment. The experiments are simple, involve hands-on use of C. elegans, and are suitable for grades 9-12 regular or AP biology classes. The experiments focus on teaching students the power of using a small, simple animal like C. elegans to understand how the nervous system works, and how changes in a single gene can lead to major behavioral defects. The experiments rely upon the student’s natural sense of curiosity, encourage independent and creative thinking skills, and provide in-class, direct experience with the scientific method. These experiments are a valuable, cost-effective way to enrich your high school biology class.

The first set of experiments, Growing worms, provides a basic introduction to C. elegans and how to maintain and manipulate these animals. Understanding the Uncs! has been used successfully by at the grade 9 and 10 level in both Minnesota and Florida high schools. This experiment focuses on understanding how single gene changes leads to different changes in animal locomotion. This experiment is relatively straightforward to execute and requires a bit of teacher preparation time, but no student preparation time.

Worms can feel touch! has been successfully used in Florida high schools, and illustrations a more complex behavior than locomotion, the worm’s sense of touch. This experiments requires some teacher preparation time, and does require that the students build a simple instrument for touching the animals. Worms can feel touch! is the most appropriate experiment if you have multiple classes to set up and execute an experiment.

 

Exercise 1: How to Grow Worms - select the Adobe or Word icon to download the full protocol and teacher prep info.WordAdobe

Requirements:

a) worm pick (lab spatula, toothpicks, or cotton swabs)

b) media plates with E. coli (worm food)

c) dissecting microscope

d) C. elegans: N2 (wild-type) worm strains are available from the C. elegans Genetics Center or from the Grill lab

Goals:

1) The student will become familiar with C. elegans and how they grow by transferring samples of C. elegans from one plate to another.

2) The student will become familiar with biotechnology techniques. Specifically, how to manipulate organisms used in the lab setting.


Exercise 2: Understanding the Uncs! - select the Adobe or Word icon to download the full protocol and teacher prep info.WordAdobe

Requirements:

a) worm pick (glass pasteur pipet, small platinum wire)

b) media plates with E. coli (worm food)

c) dissecting microscope

d) C. elegans: N2 (wild-type), mild unc (unc-42(e270)), strong unc (unc-51(e369)) all of these worm strains are available from the C. elegans Genetics Center or from the Grill lab

Goals:

1) learn to identify mutants with different types of impaired movement

2) learn what a neuron is and the difference between the human brain and the worm brain

3) understand what a gene is, what mutation of a single gene can do to an animal’s movement and hence its neurons.

 

Intergroup lab: Understanding the Uncs! - select the Adobe or Word icon to download the full protocol and teacher prep info.WordAdobe

Requirements:

a) worm pick (lab spatula, toothpicks, or cotton swabs)

b) media plates with E. coli (worm food)

c) dissecting microscope

d) C. elegans: N2 (wild-type), mild unc (unc-42(e270)), strong unc (unc-51(e369)) all of these worm strains are available from the C. elegans Genetics Center or from the Grill lab

Goal:

1) students will observe several varieties of C. elegans and make observations. Each group of students will be getting a different variety of C. elegans. It will be up to each group to determine the characteristics of their variety.


Exercise 3: Worms can feel touch! - select the Adobe or Word icon to download the full protocol and teacher prep info.WordAdobe

Requirements:

a) worm pick (glass pasteur pipet, small platinum wire)

b) media plates with E. coli (worm food)

c) dissecting microscope

d) several strains of C. elegans: N2 (wild-type), touch insensitive mutant (mec-4(e1611))

Goals:

1) learn to touch C. elegans on its head or tail to trigger movement away from point of touch.

2) learn what a neuron is, and difference between human brain and worm brain

3) learn that neurons in C. elegans sense touch

4) understand what a gene is, what mutation of a single gene can do to animal’s sense of touch.

Exercise 4: Worms and their environment - select the Adobe or Word icon to download the full protocol and teacher prep info.WordAdobe

Requirements:

a) worm pick (lab spatula, toothpicks, or cotton swabs)

b) media plates with E. coli (worm food)

c) dissecting microscope

d) C. elegans: N2 (wild-type) worm strains are available from the C. elegans Genetics Center or from the Grill lab

e) Incubator and refrigerator

Goals:

1) The student will observe the growth of C. elegans in different environments.

2) The student will become familiar with biotechnology techniques. Specifically, how to manipulate organisms used in the lab setting.

If any of these experiments are of interest to you, feel free to contact Dr. Brock Grill for further details on experimental design, or to arrange a visit by Dr. Grill to your local school to give a seminar and help initiate these experiments.