Jonathan Monroe, Department of Biology, James Madison University, Harrisonburg, VA 22807
This is a semester long laboratory project in which you will work in teams of 3 or 4 students to isolate mutants of the small crucifer Arabidopsis thaliana. Mutants are extremely valuable tools for understanding the underlying metabolic pathways or molecular mechanisms of physiological processes. Indeed, much of what we know today about the biology of organisms has been obtained from characterizing mutants. Arabidopsis is an ideal model organism for this purpose due to its small size, short life cycle, and small genome. Hundreds of mutants of this plant have already been described.
Starting with seedlings growing on agar plates you will work in teams to isolate a collection of mutants having some common characteristic. Mutant seedlings will be transplanted to soil and grown to maturity. After about six weeks seeds will be harvested and cleaned. In the last six weeks of the semester you will design and conduct quantitative experiments to learn something about your mutants. Each team will then write a scientific poster describing your work. The poster will be in the format required for presentation at the American Society of Plant Physiologists national meeting. Work on this project will be concentrated at the beginning and end of the semester. Therefore, in the middle of the semester we will conduct a series of shorter lab exercises.
This is a self motivated, investigative style project in which the "right answer" is not known. To succeed you do not have to isolate a unique mutant and characterize it for publication. Like any real scientific project failure is likely. I have tried to design this project to optimize our chances of success. Some of you may fail to find any of the mutants you are looking for. Others will find mutants, but they will fail to set seed. Others yet will collect mutant seed only to find they are identical to a mutant already described. Such is science. Hopefully, isolating numerous mutants and sharing them with others will lessen to effects of the first two potential failures. All I ask is that you make a strong effort, work cooperatively without allowing your teammates to do your work, spend enough time collecting background information to design rational experiments, and present your data in the correct format. If you take this project seriously you will be better prepared for future studies and will have fun in the process.