Columns Education

Research Experiences for College Students

Urmi Bajpai

It all started with a visit of Dr. Kanury Rao (Head, Immunology Group, ICGEB) to the department of Biomedical Science at Acharya Narendra Dev College, whom I had invited to deliver a lecture, sometimes in September, 2004. He took back home (or lab) the enthusiastic response that he got from the students and my inclination to do research. In his next project, he decided to keep a small component that would be carried out by the students of B.Sc. (Hons) Biomedical Science in our college. The aim was to build infrastructure in the college to do quality research and to expose the students to the excitement and demands of a career in science and help them contribute productively to an ongoing multi-institutional research project.

“A Virtual Centre of Excellence for Coordinated Research on ‘Tuberculosis: Development of alternate strategies” is a multi-institutional project, funded by DBT. The component of this project that was carried out in our college was to PCR amplify and clone Mycobacterium tuberculosis genes and develop a repository of fifty M. tuberculosis gene. The total grant received was Rs. 26 Lacks and the period was November 2006-March 2009. The students of B.Sc. (Hons) Biomedical Sciences (50 students) were trained in a number of molecular techniques, including gel electrophoresis, isolation of plasmid DNA, bacterial transformation, PCR, TA cloning, restriction digest analysis and DNA sequencing. The clones generated in this project shall be used in future work leading to diagnostics, drug-development or developing immune reagents. The newly constructed lab is spacious and has the facilities to carry out the research work required in the project. The lab is equipped with gel electrophoresis system, UV trans-illuminator, PCR machines, pipettemen, and a refrigerated centrifuge.

A new research project that should begin in the coming academic session is a component of OSDD* project. The sanctioned CSIR grant is Rs. 20 Lacks, which is expected to be released in July 2010. The objective of this project is “Cloning and expression of a select number of Mycobacterium tuberculosis genes” and to study the potential of these gene products as drug targets by investigating their role in pathogenesis. B.Sc. (Hons) Biomedical Science students shall be engaged in carrying out this research project. In all, eight undergraduate colleges are short-listed from across the country, with which OSDD shall engage in drug discovery activities in the initial phase. Acharya Narendra Dev College is one of the eight chosen colleges.

Besides, the wet lab activities, students of B.Sc. (Hons) Biomedical Science are also actively involved in projects on annotation of genomes of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Zebrafish, under the guidance of the scientists from Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), Delhi. Four of the students working on these projects were awarded a laptop each for their contribution. Some of the students are also likely to be the co-authors in a couple of research publications!

The concept of involving undergraduate students in research projects has proven to be a great one for our college students! It definitely requires hard work and patience but it is worth the efforts. To watch your own students (whom you first meet as fresh school kids with tentative know-how) transforming to confident young scholars deft in technical and analytical skills gives me great joy. As an educator, my focus always has been on helping students become independent learners and giving them as much practical training as possible. The research projects not only make it possible to develop a modern laboratory in the college for the students to work on contemporary problems (unlike the usual caricatured labs deficient in funds) but also create an ambience that is motivating for the students to further continue with science! The project objective (Cloning of Mtb genes) was in coherence with the curriculum; hence students become proficient in modern techniques, as opposed to the mundane demonstrations of the techniques that happen due to the inadequate availability of expensive chemicals and other lab ware.

Acquiring knowledge from text books and the teachers has been the mainstay of the undergraduate education in India. But doing things on your own builds scientific temperament and innovative thinking. The learning process of planning and executing experiments, application of the knowledge gained in doing research work and opportunities to work with and share the experience of the scientists working on the similar problems (impact of such interactions can not be underestimated) are some of the positive manifestations of the research activities at undergraduate level!

My observation as a teacher is that students have tremendous enthusiasm and energy and are usually brimming with ideas and endless scientific queries! Their participation in research could be one way to channel these qualities into a wonderful learning experience! It is also important to train our students to work as a team, and such projects give them an opportunity to work both independently as well as in teams to achieve a common objective.

In the end, I would like to thank Dr. Savithri Singh, Principal of the college for her enthusiasm and support and to the laboratory and administrative staff of the college for their efforts and cooperation. I acknowledge DBT and CSIR for granting the funds to carry out the research projects.

*Open Source Drug Discovery (OSDD) is a CSIR (Council of Science and Industrial Research) Team India Consortium with Global Partnership with a vision to provide affordable healthcare to the developing world. This initiative has been taken to provide a platform where the scientists from across the world can collaborate & collectively endeavor towards the conquest of Tuberculosis. The major objective of this mega project is to further the understanding of the biology of the causative organism of tuberculosis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and hence to accelerate the discovery of novel drugs for Tuberculosis.