27 A Strong Mentoring Relationship | Colleen Jacks

My area of interest and expertise in genetics is eukaryotic gene expression.  My graduate research at the University of Minnesota was on the molecular genetics of a mouse ribosomal protein gene.  As a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Chicago, I expanded my knowledge base in the fields of molecular biology and genetics to include plant systems.  I utilize the small flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana and more recently, the legume Medicago truncatula as model systems and have studied a number of different genes in these organisms.  At the University of Chicago, I isolated and studied the expression of two acyl carrier protein (ACP) genes. My contribution to this work is reported in a publication enclosed with my file and a poster presentation at the Third International Congress of Plant Molecular Biology.  I have conducted further work utilizing Arabidopsis, and subsequently Medicago, in the laboratory of Dr. Steve Gantt at the University of Minnesota.  This long-time collaborative relationship has spanned a number of summers and both of my sabbatical leaves from Gustavus.  It originally grew from our common interest in ribosomal protein genes, but also came to include other genes as described in my annotated bibliography.  This collaboration has been a boon for me in both my teaching and research, as the types of questions, approaches and methods in molecular genetics continue to expand with the advent of genomic analysis.  My relationship with the Gantt lab has allowed me to keep up with these changes professionally, and what I learn from my experiences in that lab ultimately make their way into my courses.  They also serve to provide the basis of many student projects.  Most recently, our collaboration involves a plan to integrate research and education proposed in a NSF grant awarded to Steve.  His lab is using a functional genomics approach called RNAi to identify the function of 1500 different genes in the plant Medicago truncatula.  Unlike other plants, Medicago is a legume and is able to form root nodules and fix nitrogen from the environment; the grant funds work to identify as many genes responsible for these functions as possible. The lab sequence I am developing has a genomics basis that allows students to develop technical and analytical skills in many molecular biological techniques, and also provides an investigative experience as their work is with a set of untested genes.  This year I joined the campus Scholarship of Teaching and Learning group with the goal of designing an assessment of the gain in student understanding of these techniques, their application to genomic studies and the analysis of the generated data.  This laboratory manual is based on my work at the University of Minnesota during my 2004-2005 sabbatical leave and is a “work in progress” that I am using this spring for my BIO 388 course. Our goal is to make a complete and tested version of this manual publicly available to educators on-line.

At Gustavus, I have pursued my interests in eukaryotic gene expression mainly by studying the group of genes I was first introduced to in my doctoral research, ribosomal protein genes.  These genes encode small proteins that help form the structure of the ribosome, the cellular organelle responsible for producing proteins. Ribosomal protein genes in plants such as Arabidopsis are encoded differently than in animals; multiple genes exist for each of the approximately 80 different proteins.  My students and I have investigated the evolutionary relationships of the Arabidopsis genes to those of yeast (Deanna Koepp and others).  We continue to study where and when during plant growth the five genes for the protein S15 are expressed and attempt to quantify the level of this expression (Brian North, Ellen Anderson, Matt Lieser and others).  As I described earlier, student participation in my research is ongoing and an important aspect of my work at Gustavus.   Of course, the degree of student involvement depends in large part on the students; in the ideal situation, the mentoring relationship is a strong one, with students doggedly pursuing a project or question over multiple semesters and presenting their results at Gustavus and beyond.

My work on campus (both research and lab curriculum development) has been aided by the acquisition of equipment made possible by an instrumentation grant (ILI) that I received from the National Science Foundation and the DNA sequencer we obtained from LI-COR (proposal included in file).  In the past several years the time I have had available for professional pursuits has been taken up more frequently by my participation in college-wide science education initiatives, for example the proposal we submitted to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2003 (included in my file); Jonathan Smith and I have agreed to be the point faculty in development of the next proposal if we are extended an invitation to submit a proposal due fall 2007.   I have also participated in discussions regarding NSF’s Scholarships in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S-STEM) program which provides scholarship funds to traditionally underserved students in the sciences that we hoped to recruit to Gustavus, as well as establishing an academic and vocational support system to help ensure their success.

My continuing interest in improving biology education led to an invitation to participate as an external reviewer of the biology program at Otterbein College in Ohio last February.   My other professional involvements include memberships in the Council on Undergraduate Research, the Association for Women in Science and several discipline-specific organizations listed in my C.V.   I have been an active member of the Gustavus Sigma Xi, serving for two years as secretary, once as president-elect and once as president.  As a member of the Minnesota Academy of Sciences I serve as a judge for the Winchell Undergraduate Research Competition.