Welcome to the FIRE website! This is a crash course in becoming a scientist. We will immerse ourselves in all aspects of the scientific process - literature searching, hypothesizing, designing experiments, writing research proposals, performing the research, analyzing the data, and sharing it with others. This is not your cookbook lab! It will require you to start thinking, writing, and talking like a scientist. AND we might make interesting scientific discoveries along the way!
We are using the nematode worm C. elegans to learn about how genes control behaviors we can all relate to: stress and sleep. Why the worm? It is relatively easy to manipulate genes in this organism and therefore determine their function, shedding light onto the function of similar genes in humans. Further, while this worm has only 302 neurons, it displays many complex behaviors such as learning and mate finding, making it well suited to the study of behavior.
The research done during this course is novel- that is, the things that we are studying have not yet been characterized. The goal is to provide you with an authentic research experience. You'll have several projects to choose from. One involves looking for genes required for sleep behavior, using functional genomics. What does that mean, exactly? 'Functional genomics' is simply the effort to assign functions to large sets of genes within a sequenced genome (like ours, or in this case, the genome of the worm). To this end, we will be using a technique called RNA-mediated interference (RNAi) to knock down gene function one by one. Students will choose sets of genes to study by using bioinformatic tools, and will write a short proposal similar to those that researchers write to obtain funding for a project. Once you're 'funded', you are ready to start your functional genomic research on behavior! Other projects involve looking at the potential relationship between stress and sleep behavior. You can choose to 'stress out' the worms any way you see fit (poor little guys!), then examine their sleep behavior
Course Materials: there is no textbook; research articles will be posted here under 'Resources'. You can also access handy information by clicking on the numbered tabs at the top of this page, corresponding to each lecture/lab session. We will be doing some web-based bioinformatics (database searching and candidate gene identification) as well as frequent in-class writing/editing. You can use your own computer or one of the tablet PCs available in the FIRE lab.
Updated note Dec. 2014:
Hey Fire Labbies from Spring 2013! The work we did in this course has finally been published!!!!! All of your worm-torture has paid off. Not only did we get a great publication in Current Biology (Hill et al., 2014 - check out the acknowledgements at the end!!), but our work was also written up in Nature Neuroscience Reviews and Science Signaling, wooo! Check out the PDFs below.