Discipline: Biological Sciences
Crishaena Meyer - Harris-Stowe State University
Co-Author(s): Scott Horrell, Harris-Stowe State University, Saint Louis, MO
Current undergraduate students often conduct cookbook projects, which have been performed before and the professor knows the outcome. These projects do not encourage creative thinking or foster ownership of scientific endeavors. To motivate students to excel in genetics at Harris-Stowe State University we set out to develop a way of teaching real research methods on a modest budget in a classroom setting. To accomplish this we attempted to develop our own genetic tests from scratch to model an approach that would generate student interest about particular genetic diseases. For my project I was interested in creating a panel of tests to help determine a predisposition for mental illness. Diagnoses of mental illness is still a challenge for healthcare professionals and often those with illnesses are left untreated and misdiagnosed. Creating new tools to assist with diagnoses would greatly aid this process and provide us additional insight into developing treatment.
Individuals often have differences in genes that make them more or less susceptible to mental disorders. Many of these genes have roles in brain function. Examples of some of these genes are; DRD4 which is associated with risk taking behavior, ADD and addiction, OXTR which is associated with compassion, and 5HTT with is associated with depression and anxiety. Individuals suffering from mental disorders often harbor mutations in these genes resulting in their dysfunction. To test if an individual possesses faulty copies of these genes, we first purified human genomic DNA from anonymous donors using saliva Qiagen DNA prep kit. The kit was designed to purify DNA from blood samples, but we tried out a few adapted methods and determined that purification from saliva was the cheapest, quickest, and most reliable method. Next we designed PCR based tests to determine if these faulty copies of genes are present or not. Our tests for OXTR and 5HTT were successful in that we obtained PCR products of roughly the predicted size for a healthy individual. However, none of the anonymous donors tested show results consistent with dysfunctional genes. Thus, we were unable to determine if our tests could detect our mutations of interest.
These results suggest that this is a cheap and rapid process for investigating human genetics. Additional testing and troubleshooting will be required, but it seems very likely that this approach will be applicable in a classroom setting. It is also noteworthy that mental disorders are very complex, and while the tests we developed may indicate a person is more likely to have a disorder, testing positive for the mutation does not mean a person will have the disorder. However, these tests are an excellent starting point in the diagnosis of complex and debilitating disorders.
Funder Acknowledgement(s): I thank S. Horrell, and D. Chalker for their help and funding. Funding was also provided by a grant to D. Chalker from the National Science Foundation and an HBCU-UP grant from the National Science Foundation to Harris-Stowe State University. I would also like to thank Harris-Stowe State University for providing the opportunity and Washington University for use of their facilities.
Faculty Advisor: Dr. Scott Horrell, Crishaenameyer@gmail.com
Role: With the supervision and assistance of my mentor I performed the bulk of major components for this research project. My constituents included; studying and selecting the genes of interest, designing PCR reactions to isolate the genes of interest, DNA purification, PCR reactions, gel electrophoresis, and interpretation of results.