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A Laboratory-intensive Course On RNA Interference And Model Organisms

Joanna A. Miller, D. Scott Witherow, Susan Carson

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RNA interference (RNAi) is a powerful method to silence gene expression in a variety of organisms and is generating interest not only as a useful tool for research scientists but also as a novel class of therapeutics in clinical trials. Here, we report that undergraduate and graduate students with a basic molecular biology background were able to demonstrate conceptual knowledge and technical skills for using RNAi as a research tool upon completion of an intensive 8-wk RNAi course with a 2-h lecture and 5-h laboratory per week. Students were instructed on design of RNAi experiments in model organisms and perform multiweek laboratory sessions based on journal articles read and discussed in class. Using Nicotiana benthamiana, Caenorhabditis elegans, and mammalian cell culture, students analyzed the extent of silencing using both qualitative assessment of phenotypic variations and quantitative measurements of RNA levels or protein levels. We evaluated the course over two semesters, each with a separate instructor. In both semesters, we show students met expected learning outcomes as demonstrated by successful laboratory experiment results, as well as positive instructor assessments of exams and lab reports. Student self-assessments revealed increased confidence in conceptual knowledge and practical skills. Our data also suggest that the course is adaptable to different instructors with varying expertise.