To help students develop successful strategies for learning how to learn and communicate complex information in cell biology, we developed a quarter-long cell biology class based on team projects. Each team researches a particular human disease and presents information about the cellular structure or process affected by the disease, the cellular and molecular biology of the disease, and recent research focused on understanding the cellular mechanisms of the disease process. To support effective teamwork and to help students develop collaboration skills useful for their future careers, we provide training in working in small groups. A final poster presentation, held in a public forum, summarizes what students have learned throughout the quarter. Although student satisfaction with the course is similar to that of standard lecture-based classes, a project-based class offers unique benefits to both the student and the instructor.
Recent advances in genomics and structural biology have resulted in an unprecedented increase in biological data available from Internet-accessible databases. In order to help students effectively use this vast repository of information, undergraduate biology students at Drake University were introduced to bioinformatics software and databases in three courses, beginning with an introductory course in cell biology. The exercises and projects that were used to help students develop literacy in bioinformatics are described. In a recently offered course in bioinformatics, students developed their own simple sequence analysis tool using the Perl programming language. These experiences are described from the point of view of the instructor as well as the students. A preliminary assessment has been made of the degree to which students had developed a working knowledge of bioinformatics concepts and methods. Finally, some conclusions have been drawn from these courses that may be helpful to instructors wishing to introduce bioinformatics within the undergraduate biology curriculum.
A symposium was held at the University of California, San Diego, to honor the contributions of Nobel Laureate, George Palade, to cell biology. The speakers included Günter Blobel, on the structure and function of nuclear pore complexes; Peter Walter, on the unfolded protein response in health and disease; Randy Schekman, on human disease-linked mutations in the COPII machinery; Scott Emr, on the regulation of plasma membrane composition by selective endocytosis; Roger Kornberg, on the structure and function of the transcription machinery; Peter Novick, on the regulation of rab GTPases along the secretory pathway; Jim Spudich, on the mechanism of the enigmatic myosin VI motor; and Joe Goldstein, on the function of the Niemann-Pick C (NPC)-linked gene products, NPC1 and NPC2, in cholesterol transport. Their work showcased the multidisciplinary nature, diversity, and vitality of cell biology. In the words of George Palade, their talks also illustrated “how cell biology could be used to understand disease and how disease could be used to discover normal cell biology.” An integrated understanding of the cellular machinery will be essential in tackling the plethora of questions and challenges posed by completion of the human genome and for understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying human disease.
Mechanistic modeling has the potential to transform how cell biologists contend with the inescapable complexity of modern biology. I am a physiologist–electrical engineer–systems biologist who has been working at the level of cell biology for the past 24 years. This perspective aims 1) to convey why we build models, 2) to enumerate the major approaches to modeling and their philosophical differences, 3) to address some recurrent concerns raised by experimentalists, and then 4) to imagine a future in which teams of experimentalists and modelers build—and subject to exhaustive experimental tests—models covering the entire spectrum from molecular cell biology to human pathophysiology. There is, in my view, no technical obstacle to this future, but it will require some plasticity in the biological research mind-set.
The Women in Cell Biology (WICB) committee of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB) was started in the 1970s in response to the documented underrepresentation of women in academia in general and cell biology in particular. By coincidence or causal relationship, I am happy to say that since WICB became a standing ASCB committee, women have been well represented in ASCB's leadership and as symposium speakers at the annual meeting. However, the need to provide opportunities and information useful to women in developing their careers in cell biology is still vital, given the continuing bias women face in the larger scientific arena. With its emphasis on mentoring, many of WICB's activities benefit the development of both men and women cell biologists. The WICB “Career Column” in the monthly ASCB Newsletter is a source of accessible wisdom. At the annual ASCB meeting, WICB organizes the career discussion and mentoring roundtables, childcare awards, Mentoring Theater, career-related panel and workshop, and career recognition awards. Finally, the WICB Speaker Referral Service provides a list of outstanding women whom organizers of scientific meetings, scientific review panels, and university symposia/lecture series can reach out to when facing the proverbial dilemma...