Student design and characterization of visible DHFR fusions for biochemistry tools to improve learning during lab exercises

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Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education


Student feedback from an undergraduate biochemistry lab course suggested the use of visibly traceable proteins may assist learning. Based on this feedback, we used guided inquiry lab exercises where students developed and characterized a suite of fluorescent protein-dihydrofolate reductase (DHFR) fusions as tools for a biochemistry teaching lab. In contrast to the unfused versions, members of this suite are well-expressed, soluble, visible, highly stable, and easily characterized. The color of mCherry and EGFP fluorescent fusions with microbial DHFR allows students to visibly track their target protein from expression through purification under ambient light, while fusions with BFP are visible under UV-light. Fusions were made to both wild-type and kinetically enhanced DHFR variants. Importantly, we found that fluorescent protein fusions with DHFR did not kinetically interfere as the KM and kcat values were not remarkably altered from the unfused variant. With these fusions, students can easily measure kinetic parameters under steady-state conditions with readily available substrate and common laboratory spectrophotometers. Additionally, students also determined IC50 values of trimethoprim for DHFR. These exercises can be completed in a series of up to six lab periods and we have included the protocols for instructors who wish undertake a similar series of experiments in their biochemistry teaching labs. Using these visible fusion enzymes with subsequent students, we observed potential learning gains on a course assessment and received positive student feedback. We suggest that the often over-looked element of visual cues in a biochemistry lab may be an exploitable component of learning.

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