My First Experience with Inquiry-Based Research
During the my sophomore year in the spring of 2019, I took a molecular biology course that incorporated an inquiry-based lab. Never before had I experienced a lab course that required me to develop my own research project, let alone one that I would be devoted to for an entire semester.
The professor instructing the course, Jennifer Larimore, PhD, completed her postdoc at Emory University under Victor Faundez, MD, PhD. The Faundez lab investigates neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Rett syndrome (RTT) and schizophrenia (SZ), and the cellular and molecular mechanisms of endosomal membrane trafficking in neuronal systems. Since arriving at Agnes Scott College, Dr. Larimore has established an Agnes Scott “satellite lab” of the Emory University Faundez lab where investigation into neurodevelopmental disorders and the endosomal pathway continues.
The Larimore Lab’s very own research was incorporated into our inquiry-based molecular biology lab. Given previous research findings that endosomal mistrafficking occurs in RTT and SZ model mice, the general research project for molecular biology was to investigate a cellular system that may be altered in RTT or SZ model systems. So, this is what my two lab mates and I came up with:
The Effects of Mecp2 Mutations and Dysbindin Knockdown on Fxyd1 Protein Expression
Previous research indicates RTT and SZ individuals experience neuronal atrophy and, subsequently, weak cellular transmission, most likely resulting in the cognitive deficits characteristic of the disorder. Considering the hindered neuronal transmission due to RTT and SZ, we inquired into the Na+/K+ pump, a large transmembrane enzyme essential for neurons to reach their action potential, promoting communication. We hypothesized the Na+/K+ pump is affected in RTT and SZ since this cell membrane protein complex plays a significant role in neuronal communication. To investigate Na+/K+ pump expression in both RTT and SZ cell models, I performed western blots and PCRs and concluded there was not a significant alteration in Na+/K+ pump protein or mRNA expression levels as a result of the RTT mutation or susceptibility factors for SZ. Further investigation is needed to determine if there is a specific point in brain development at which the Na+/K+ pump is significantly implicated.
This semester-long research project culminated in poster presentations at the Agnes Scott College Spring Annual Research Conference (2019) and the Agnes Scott College Scotties with Nerves Symposium (2019), the latter for which we were awarded Runner-Up for Best Poster Presentation.
Additionally, each research student produced a manuscript regarding their research following Molecular Biology of the Cell journal guidelines. It was through this experience that introduced me to the significance of communicating science concisely, thoroughly, and effectively. I would be remise if I did not mention that the manuscript below and the project as a whole can certainly be improved, but I like to describe this scientific inquiry as dipping my feet into the pool of research. My desire to improve as a scientist by becoming a more thorough, methodical, and creative investigator was brought to light through this project. To tap into my newfound curiosity regarding the realm of research and to challenge myself to be a better investigator, I pursued additional research in the Larimore Lab, which resulted in me becoming completely submerged in the pool of research instead of dipping a few toes here and there.
Credit: “RTT mouse dentate gyrus stained for EEA1 protein” by Alexandra Lombardo is licensed under CC BY NC 4.0