Training New Systems Biologists Through Educational Software
In addition to research experiences on campus, the Center also offered an off site undergraduate internship program. This program had a two fold impact: undergraduate computer science students were introduced to systems biology and in turn school students learnt about this emerging field through the educational software developed by the interns.
We employed videoconference software, electronic research notebooks and concurrent version control servers, enabling interns to work from their college campus or home. These technologies allowed us to easily monitor student progress, and give them feedback and mentoring. This system is particularly relevant in Maine where large distances between the Center and college campuses, in addition to harsh winters, make traditional on site internships impractical during the school year.
Example projects included:
An undergraduate team at the University of Maine at Orono developed a project titled "ANTs... *" that allows students to conduct experiments using a simulated ant colony. The students can control the location and amount of food. Ants leave the colony and move at random until they find food, then they return to the colony and leave a pheromone trail. The students can control factors such as the concentration of the pheromone, the rate of its evaporation, the strength of smell of the ants, and the probability they will follow the trail.
Center Interns worked on a Genome Browser for the GeniQuest project to provide school students with a tool to explore the Drake and Dragon Genome. In GeniQuest, students can breed a simplified model organism (Drakes), generate inbred lines, and search for a disease cure.
The interns also extended the use of the Drake model via interactive fiction for middle school students. This text based computer simulation allows students to breed animals and observe their phenotype to discover, through guided inquiry, the rules of genetics. Students explore models for eye color and coat color, that are based on mouse genetics, in an environment with a rich narrative to engage the students.