Student remote and distance research in neuroanatomy: Mapping Dscaml1 expression with a LacZ gene trap in mouse brain

Anat Histol Embryol. 2022 Sep 23. doi: 10.1111/ahe.12865. Online ahead of print.


Undergraduate student engagement in research increases retention and degree completion, especially for students who are underrepresented in science. Several approaches have been adopted to increase research opportunities including curriculum based undergraduate research opportunities (CUREs), in which research is embedded into course content. Here we report on efforts to tackle a different challenge: providing research opportunities to students engaged in remote learning or who are learning at satellite campuses or community colleges with limited research infrastructure. In our project we engaged students learning remotely or at regional centers to map gene expression in the mouse brain. In this project we mapped expression of the Down syndrome cell adhesion molecule like 1 (Dscaml1) gene in mouse brain using a LacZ expression reporter line. Identifying where Dscaml1 is expressed in the brain is an important next step in determining if its roles in development and function in the retina are conserved in the rest of the brain. Students working remotely reconstruct brain montages and annotated Dscaml1 expression in the brain of mice carrying one or two copies of the gene trap. We built on these findings by further characterizing Dscaml1 expression in inhibitory neurons of the visual pathway. These results build on and extend previous findings and demonstrate the utility of including distance learners in an active research group for both the student learners and the research team. We conclude with best practices we have developed based on this and other distance learner focused projects.

Keywords: anatomy; brain; distance education; embryology.