Bio 21 Cell Biology


During the course of this semester you will learn a variety of microscopic techniques to visualize specific cell structures. We will be using the model organism C. elegans (also known simply as "the worm") for learning these protocols. C. elegans is a small free-living soil nematode (or roundworm) that has been extensively studied by cell biologists, geneticists, neurobiologists, and developmental biologists. By primarily focusing on one organism and one form of microscopy (epifluorescence), you should be able to distinguish and compare different cell structures with one another in the same organism (and sometimes even the same cells), and obtain an appreciation for the numerous ways in which one form of microscopy can be utilized. Although the methods we will use have been refined for use with C. elegans, we will design experiments with other strains of nematodes (including other species and not fully characterized mutant strains). You will be exposed to some other microscopic methods as well, such as differential interference microscopy (DIC), polarizing and dark field optics, and time lapse imaging. Moreover, the cell type or cell structure that you will be staining on any given week will be covered in the lecture component of the course at roughly the same time, which should help to reinforce some of the lecture material.

Although each method typically results in a particular cell structure or cell type fluorescing brightly and in pretty colors, the mechanism by which the cell type or structure is molecularly recognized is different for each method. Although the general principle is the same, the details are quite different. You will be expected to understand the theory behind the protocols as well as their practical applications. Each method has its advantages and disadvantages, alternative approaches, and appropriate controls. Some of these issues will be explained in your lab manual as well as in "short presentations" to be given by lab groups. Each lab group will provide one 10 minute presentation exploring an assigned topic in fair detail (e.g., antibody production, antibody specificity, or excitation and emission spectra) or providing some useful background information on experimental species (e.g., comparative biology of the closely related species C. briggsae). Each group will sign up for a presentation slot early in the semester.

In addition to giving a short presentation, each lab group will write a single paper on an experiment you design and perform together. This paper will follow scientific format (detailed under the "Lab Paper" section of the lab manual) and all members of the group are expected to equally contribute to designing the experiment, carrying it out, and writing up the results. The experiment should be completed before Spring Break and the paper is due the week after. During the second half of the semester you will stain neurons, microfilaments, microtubules, and chromosomes of C. elegans and some additional strains. You will get to pick the experiment and staining results that your group likes best and present them as part of a lab poster at the end of the semester. Your contribution to the poster will include an abstract explaining the experiment (including methods, results, and significance), a composite figure, and a figure legend. Finally, you will take a lab final exam, that will include a practical component (e.g., correct pipeting and microscope handling) and test your understanding of the theories and techniques discussed throughout the course of the semester. Then we party!

Some practical considerations:

You will be working in groups of three throughout the semester. This will help you to divide up the workload, work on your interpersonal and communications skills, and should help you learn not only from me and the teaching assistants but from each other. It behooves you to learn to work together well and contribute equally; you will be graded as a group. Usually lab teams are able to work together very well but if your group is experiencing major personality conflicts or an unequal distribution of effort, be sure to come talk to me or one of the teaching assistants. We can usually help to iron out problems, although you should consider learning to work in a group effectively a valuable skill to be acquired. With regards to fitting "real science" into artificial time slots: you will be able to get the majority of the protocols and analyses done during the scheduled lab periods, but there will be times when a protocol needs to be carried out overnight and continued over the next few days. This usually consists of simple washes where you transfer slides from one solution to the next. You should be able to arrange a schedule with your group members and fellow classmates to divvy up these chores in a reasonable manner. Finally, your presence and active participation in the laboratory is expected. If you miss one or more labs, especially without a valid excuse, your participation grade will suffer.


Total possible points for Lab portion of course: 300 pts (30% of final course grade)

 Worm tutorial sheet  10 pts
 Short presentation  50 pts
 Experimental Design  40 pts
 Antibody staining paper  50 pts
 Participation  50 pts
 Lab Final  50 pts
 Poster Abstract and Figure  50 pts