Breakthroughs: An Exploration of Laboratory Organisms in Biomedical Research

Course Description

Medicine does not begin with clinical trials. In fact, many years of research must be conducted using other systems before being applied to humans. Did you know that tremendous strides have been made in stem cell research by using a small, pond-dwelling worm? The same yeast that makes bread dough rise is also used to uncover mechanisms in cancer. In the decades before pregnancy tests could be purchased, frogs were used as a reliable method of finding out if a woman was expecting! Today, those same frogs are used as a model for embryonic development, toxicology, neurobiology and cell biology. You will get an overview of these and other lab organisms and learn how they are used in biomedical research.

Scientists carefully choose model organisms to use based on several factors. Some of these have to do with what biological questions they want to ask, while some are quite logistical. The round-worm C. elegans can easily be stored in a freezer for future research, but you definitely wouldn’t want to try that with a mouse! However, mouse embryo cryopreservation, while much more expensive, is possible. Working with different organisms requires management and ethical considerations. We will learn about the requirements of responsible animal usage and the regulations in place to keep researchers safe and productive while ensuring proper animal care.

You will learn how scientists are currently working with these organisms by reading classical and recently-published studies. We will have virtual tours of labs, delve into the research that is being performed there and hear from a variety of lab members to get a sense of what research entails from the people actually doing it. Topics covered will include stem cell biology, cancer, aging, gene-editing and several human diseases. You will watch videos, read articles, complete case studies, engage in online discussions and create your own recorded presentation.

By the end of this course, you will:
• Learn how phylogenetically diverse model organisms can serve as models for human health and disease
• Understand how models are kept and used in labs and the regulations governing them
• Be able to assess the strengths and weaknesses of different model organisms in answering specific scientific questions

Over the course of our class, you will likely develop opinions about which organisms you would want to work with - and which ones you might not! The course will culminate with a final project on the organism of your choosing and an opportunity to research interesting work being done with that organism.


Completion of a high school biology course is required.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: June 20, 2022 - July 01, 2022
Duration: 2 Weeks
Meeting Times: Online - Mostly Asynchronous
Status: Closed
Format: Online
Instructor(s): Lindsay Mehrmanesh
Course Number: 10152