Using Bioinformatics to Develop and Test Hypotheses: E. coli-Specific Virulence Determinants†
AbstractBioinformatics, the use of computer resources to understand biological information, is an important tool in research, and can be easily integrated into the curriculum of undergraduate courses. Such an example is provided in this series of four activities that introduces students to the field of bioinformatics as they design PCR based tests for pathogenic E. coli strains. A variety of computer tools are used including BLAST searches at NCBI, bacterial genome searches at the Integrated Microbial Genomes (IMG) database, protein analysis at Pfam and literature research at PubMed. In the process, students also learn about virulence factors, enzyme function and horizontal gene transfer. Some or all of the four activities can be incorporated into microbiology or general biology courses taken by students at a variety of levels, ranging from high school through college. The activities build on one another as they teach and reinforce knowledge and skills, promote critical thinking, and provide for student collaboration and presentation. The computer-based activities can be done either in class or outside of class, thus are appropriate for inclusion in online or blended learning formats. Assessment data showed that students learned general microbiology concepts related to pathogenesis and enzyme function, gained skills in using tools of bioinformatics and molecular biology, and successfully developed and tested a scientific hypothesis.