Richard Gaber is a Professor of Molecular Biosciences in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. For many years, he was also the Director of the College’s Program in Biological Sciences, housing Northwestern’s undergraduate major in biological sciences and courses taken by students in many other fields as well. Under Gaber’s directorship, the program undertook a major restructuring of its undergraduate curriculum, funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Foundation. Goals included earlier and stronger emphases on inquiry-based and interactive learning and on analytic reasoning. Gaber’s work will further enhance the three foundational laboratory courses introduced as part of the general restructuring. “Enhancing Biological Sciences Laboratory Courses using S. commune”
Gaber’s proposal involves enhancements to Northwestern’s foundational laboratory courses in Biological Sciences, a set of three courses whose combined enrollment typically totals around 800 students each year. He is developing a series of projects using multiple strains of the mushroom-forming fungus Schizophyllum commune. This fungus is found on all continents except Antarctica and is thought to harbor more genetic diversity than any other organism. Gaber will visit forests, logging operations, and woodpiles across the U.S. to collect a geographically diverse array of S. commune specimens for use by students in the lab courses.
Students’ laboratory work with S. commune will continue across all three laboratory courses and involve increasingly sophisticated experiments, data acquisition approaches, and analyses. The diversity among specimens will allow each small group of students to analyze their own unique strain, increasing their interest and motivation. Students from different groups will also mate their fungi and perform morphological and genetic analyses of the progeny. They will generate new data and develop and test their own, original hypotheses, while gaining experience working as a team. At the same time, they will learn key biological principles and research techniques and approaches.