The Science Seminar Series: September 30, 2010
Mathematics, thermodynamics and modeling to address common misconceptions about proteins in undergraduate biology and biochemistry courses
Dr. Srebrenka Robic, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Biology
Agnes Scott College
Student Union Theater
Time: 4:00 -5:00pm
To fully understand the roles proteins play in cellular processes, students need to grasp complex ideas about protein structure, folding and stability. Our current understanding of these topics is based on mathematical models and experimental data. However, protein structure, folding and stability are often introduced as descriptive, qualitative phenomena in undergraduate classes. In the process of learning about these topics, students often form incorrect ideas. For example, by learning about protein folding in the context of protein synthesis, students may come to an incorrect conclusion that once synthesized on the ribosome, a protein spends its entire cellular life time in its fully folded native confirmation. This is clearly not true; proteins are dynamic structures that undergo both local fluctuations and global unfolding events. To prevent and address such misconceptions, basic concepts of protein science can be introduced in the context of simple mathematical models and hands-on explorations of publicly available data sets. Some common misconceptions about proteins, along with suggestions for using equations, models, sequence, structure and thermodynamic data to help students gain a deeper understanding of basic concepts relating to protein structure, folding and stability. Examples of incorporating such activities in classes ranging form first-year introductory courses to upper level classes, seminars and undergraduate research projects will be presented and discussed.