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HHMI professor, 138 undergraduates identify essential genes in eye formation

A Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) professor and 138 of his undergraduates have co-authored a paper that provides the first genome-wide estimate of vital genes that are also essential for eye development of the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. The undergraduates are students in a unique biology class taught by HHMI professor Utpal Banerjee at the University of California, Los Angeles. Banerjee and his students identified 501 essential genes responsible for processes such as repair, cell death, and cell replication in the fruit fly's developing eye. They report the results of their research and the impact of their research-based learning project in the February 2005 issue of PLoS (Public Library of Science) Biology.

"It won't be easy to find a paper with 138 undergraduate authors," said Banerjee, one of 20 HHMI professors who received $1 million grants in 2002 to improve undergraduate biology education. "In fact, this could easily be the first paper ever published with that many undergraduate authors that has serious science in it."

HHMI professors are recognized research scientists on the faculty of research universities who want to bring the excitement of scientific discovery into the undergraduate classroom. A new competition for HHMI professorships just opened, with 100 research universities invited to nominate scientist-educators and up to 20 new professors to be named in 2006.

The course, created and taught by Banerjee and his group of "teaching postdocs," Jiong Chen, Allison Milchanowski, and Gerald Call at UCLA, melds education and professional research in functional genomics. The class is modeled on the process of scientific research, a search for new knowledge and exploration of previously uncharted territory. It includes lectures on background material, a computer lab to teach students to analyze the genetic effects of crosses or mating, and a wet lab in which the student researchers actually cross-breed fli
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Contact: Jennifer Donovan
donovanj@hhmi.org
301-215-8859
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
14-Feb-2005


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