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Ursinus-led BASIL Curriculum Takes Root in Science Classrooms

Ursinus College is one of eight institutions that have collaborated on an inventive new biochemistry curriculum designed for lab courses at the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels.

After a number of years of development, the BASIL (Biochemistry Authentic Scientific Inquiry Lab) curriculum, developed in part by Rebecca Roberts, an associate professor of biology at Ursinus, has been published and is publicly accessible online for any institution to incorporate into their science lab classrooms.

It is an effort funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation and developed in tandem with California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo; Hope College; Oral Roberts University; Purdue University; Rochester Institute of Technology; St. Mary’s University; and SUNY Oswego.

“The idea is that anyone can utilize it,” says Roberts, who is lead author on a forthcoming article about the curriculum in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, a leading international journal.

In BASIL, students predict the function of a protein and then study that protein in the lab. The curriculum is flexible and can be adapted to match the available facilities, the strengths of the instructor and the learning goals of an institution, Roberts says.

At Ursinus, it’s part of two Ursinus courses: Structural Biology and Biochemistry II. The structural biology students use computational tools to investigate protein structure and deduce a possible function. Then, biochemistry students express and purify the protein and, informed by the insights of their structural biology peers, assay the protein for the proposed function. 

The curriculum aims to get students to work across disciplines and transition from thinking like students to thinking like scientists, Roberts says.

In addition to the development group of institutions, the curriculum has already been adopted by one high school in Massachusetts and a college in Great Britain.

“Graduate students have also picked up on it and so have independent researchers,” Roberts says. “We’re starting to think about how to expand BASIL even more beyond the initial development team and that’s exciting.”

The BASIL initiative, she says, provides broader course-based research experiences for students.

“It’s allowing these students to have a scientific inquiry-based experience,” Roberts says. “They’re learning cutting-edge bioinformatics skills and it gets them to think cooperatively and as part of an interdisciplinary team. That’s how science works now.”