Bringing Research-based Experimental Systems to the Undergraduate Biology Curriculum


What is Research Link 2000?

Research Link 2000 is a project that has brought together biology faculty from colleges and universities to select, develop and disseminate a group of field-tested, research-based systems and instructional materials for introductory biology courses. Its major objective is to promote research activities by students and faculty on all levels of the undergraduate curriculum.

What Need Does It Serve?

The Council on Undergraduate Research believes that education is best served by faculty-student collaborative research combined with investigative teaching strategies. Involving undergraduates in research activities is a very valuable learning experience, whether it is part of the standard laboratory course or a special project with a professor.
Biology departments that adopt one or a few research systems as the core of a research-based curriculum will derive many benefits. Faculty will be able to collaborate on their research efforts, equipment costs will be reduced, lab courses will have a common research-based core, and students will become better prepared for advanced research studies due to their prior experience with the system.

How Was It Developed?

Research Link 2000 was funded by a three-year National Science Foundation grant to the Council on Undergraduate Research. The first phase of the project was held at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, November 6-9, 1997. Sixty-five biology faculty members from more than forty different universities and colleges presented seminars describing in detail research systems that have potential for introducing research-based labs into the undergraduate curriculum.
Ten research systems were selected for further development at the Research Link 2000 Workshop, held at Carleton College, August 5-9, 1998. During this second phase of the project, system authors, project team members, and Carleton faculty and students reviewed each system and representative experiments. Each author demonstrated the research system and received suggestions as to how the system could be modified to accommodate the objectives of Research Link 2000. Guidelines were adopted for the design of the web site.
The final formal phase of the Research Link 2000 Project took place on the campus of Ferris State University, August 12-15, 1999. The purpose of the institute was to assist faculty in adopting one or two of research systems at their home institution. Twenty-five institutional teams were selected to participate based on proposals that outlined how they planned to utilize the systems and the anticipated impact on the curriculum.
Research Link 2000 is creating a new kind of learning community and resource center to support the introduction of more research-based experimentation in the undergraduate biology curriculum.

Experimental Systems

Each system has some unique characteristics that allow it to be used to answer some very important questions about life at all levels of organization. Research scientists are using many of these organisms all over the world to learn more about reproduction genetics, cancer, ecology evolution. The organisms are simple to maintain and require a minimum of advanced instrumentation. Below is a sampling of the systems, and their authors:

Fast Plants

Paul Williams, University of Wisconsin
Wisconsin Fast Plants are rapid-cycling brassicas that are members of the cabbage and mustard family (Cruciferea). They have been developed through 15 years of selective breeding to be used by teachers, students, and scientists in their classrooms and laboratories as living models for study. Fast Plants have a life cycle of 35-40 days (seed to seed) and can be grown in the classroom under continuous fluorescent light. The basic stock will grow to be about 15 cm high at maturity. Fast Plants are available in a wide variety of easily recognized phenotypes. Fast Plants can be used for examining the expression and inheritance patterns for both discrete and continuously variable traits. Students will engage in phenotypic linkage mapping of various traits of their choice selected from the Fast Plant stock inventory. Data generated by students will serve as the basis for the building of a phenotypic linkage map for Brassica rapa.

Freshwater Spring Organisms

Doug Glazier, Juniata College
This research system has several advantages for investigations in ecology and evolutionary biology, including: (1) field work can be carried out year-round because many freshwater springs have nearly constant temperatures, (2) spring ecosystems are fairly discrete and have relatively few common species of animals, thus simplifying ecological analysis, (3) springs may differ considerably in habitat, water chemistry and biotic composition even within a local region, thus offering useful "natural experiments", (4) the animals of springs are easy to collect and maintain in the laboratory, and (5) brooding of the young and year-round amplexus behavior in spring-dwelling amphipods and isopods make these animals especially suitable for studying the ecology of reproduction and sexual selection, an important evolutionary process. This system can be used to perform a wide variety of field and laboratory experiments, to make comparative studies at the levels of individuals, populations and communities, and to estimate the evolutionary relationships of organisms by using selected traits of a sample of spring-dwelling animal taxa.


Jack Werren, University of Rochester
Nasonia is a small parasitic insect with features that make it an excellent organism for undergraduate research and teaching, particularly for genetics, evolution and ecology. A key features of Nasonia is ease of rearing and handling. Nasonia has a short generation time (14 days at 250 C) and can be easily cultured on commercially available fly hosts. Males and females can be readily sexed in the pupal stage (over a three day time period) and stored under refrigeration until needed. Adults are "friendly" and can be handled without anesthetization. This makes virgin collection and genetic crossing easy. Nasonia has haplodiploid sex determination; males are haploid and derived from unfertilized eggs whereas females are diploid and derived from fertilized eggs. This is useful feature for teaching basic genetic principles. A number of visible mutants and molecular markers are available for teaching linkage, epistasis and complementation. Three closely related species with interesting behavioral and morphological differences provide excellent opportunities for teaching principles of evolution, including reproductive isolation, speciation and adaptation.


Beth Montelone, Kansas State University and Brian White, University of Massachusetts
The simple eukaryote Saccharomyces cerevisiae (bakers' yeast) has many advantages as a research system: small size, rapid growth, complete sexual life cycle, safety, well-characterized genetics, a completely sequenced genome, and not least, the world-wide community of yeast genetics researchers as a resource base.

Additional Model Systems

The following model systems were presented at the Research Link 2000 initial workshops held at the University of Wisconsin - Whitewater, November 6-9, 1997. They provide additional ideas for developing research - based undergraduate curricula and undergraduate research with faculty members.


Research Link 2000 Project Team

Jim Hoerter, Project Coordinator, Ferris State University
Lisa Baird, University of San Diego
Sibdas Ghosh, Dominican University of California
Elaine Hoagland, Council on Undergraduate Research
Kipp Kruse, Eastern Illinois University
Michael Tannenbaum, Marist College
Funded by the National Science Foundation, DUE Project #9896223