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Meeker conducts research through National Science Foundation award
by Nancy Grindle Correspondent · August 24th, 2017

Steve Meeker, who teaches high school general and AP biology courses at Linn-Mar High School, worked this past summer at Coe College under a National Science Foundation (NSF) special program called a Research Experience for Teachers. The program ran from June 5 to July 21.

Meeker's work was guided by Associate Professor Randy Christensen, PhD., who teaches molecular genetics and developmental biology at Coe. During the application process, which was done directly through Coe, Meeker could select the area of study in which he was most interested. He chose to study gene expression during limb regeneration.

Dr. Christensen's doctoral thesis was undertaken at The Ohio State University and was based on growth factors involved in salamander limb regeneration. He continues to study salamanders, among other topics in molecular genetics. He and his students have sequenced several novel genes and published the information in GenBank at the National Center for Biotechnical Information.

That was also the goal for Meeker and three undergraduates working in the lab. Meeker concentrated on a gene called Sp9, a transcription factor. Other members of the group studied genes including Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), Radical Fringe, and AKT. In addition to sequencing the genes, the lab group was hoping to identify when these genes are expressed during regeneration.

Over the summer, Meeker gained experience in many new lab protocols, including generating tDNA, gel electrophoresis, PCR and immunohistochemistry microscopy.

He was able to use a variety of cutting-edge lab equipment to carry out these experiments. Among them were a thermocycler, nanodrop spectrophotometer, fluorescent image analyzer, cryostat, and confocal microscope.

Meeker told us that scientists have studied animal development for many years and are hoping to acquire more insight into how this information can help understand regeneration. They know that genes are turned on and off at various times during regeneration. Also known is that cells communicate with other cells following injury.

A more detailed understanding of these cellular messages might help us apply this knowledge in the field of medicine. It is hoped that such research may someday lead to breakthroughs in the areas of human recovery from spinal cord injury and/or traumatic brain injury.

Now that his summer research experience is over, how will Meeker use what he has learned? What will he take back to his classes?

He is working with other biology teachers to provide more lab work and labs that are more authentic. He is happy that his classes are in blocks, so they are 90 minutes long. This means students have time to learn the proper procedure for using the laboratory to gain insights.

The State of Iowa has come out with new science standards, and Meeker will be applying much of what he learned over the summer in ways that align with those standards. They involve performance expectations, foundation boxes (principles which are known and with which the students will work), and cross-cutting concepts.

One of the main principles of note is that through new scientific knowledge and techniques, the students will work on real-world problems. For instance, in genetic studies, it is known that some parts of DNA carry a regulatory or structural purpose. But there are parts of DNA and chromosomes with functions which are still unknown.

Meeker said, "This was a fantastic learning experience! I was able to gain first-hand knowledge about many lab techniques.

"But more importantly, I was able to experience the process of research. That is something I can bring back to my classroom. I can make sure my students experience the process of answering scientific questions."

Meeker added, too, that his students will be able to carry over into their futures the concept of knowledge being rooted in evidence and how to collect that evidence in valid ways. No matter what they end up doing in the future, such experiences will help them.
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