5 Creative Ways to Teach the Invertebrate Model System for Biomedical Research

Anjaney Kothari

Biologists and biomedical engineers rely on organism models to understand physiology and disease and to design and test treatments. The invertebrate model system is one of the most preferred organism models because it closely fits with the motto of replacement, reduction and refinement in biological research. Indeed, invertebrates, like the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans, find applications in diverse research areas including cancer, kidney disease, and neurodegenerative disorders. 

But appropriately applying and studying the invertebrate model requires training and expertise. Here, we list five creative ways to teach students the invertebrate model system and its significance.

1. Engage Students with Interactive Models

Interactive models build a one-on-one connection between the subject matter and each individual student. Additionally, interactive models allow students to visualize the effects of genetic mutations or observe an organism’s lifecycle in an accelerated timeframe.

Take Labster’s invertebrate model system simulation, for example. Here, the students learn about the lifecycle of C. elegans by observing its development under a virtual microscope. The students also work towards identifying the genetic mutation that causes the rare genetic disorder called Saethre-Chotzen syndrome. To this end, they perform a forward genetic screen using the C. elegans model. Firstly, they induce a number of genetic mutations in the invertebrate model. Thereafter, they identify the mutation that causes the same phenotype as the disease of interest. The best part – they complete this genetic screening in a tenth of the time it would take in real life!

Worms in a virtual lab.

2. Make the Topic Fun with Games and Activities

Games and activities encourage collaborative learning in a fun-filled atmosphere. They are especially useful when the subject matter is vast and can benefit from categorization into various segments. Different segments can become separate games or activities in which the students can participate.

For example, you can divide your class into groups and ask them to choose any disease for a group presentation. The students will then discuss how the invertebrate model has helped further the understanding of their chosen disease. This collaborative exercise will result in peer-to-peer learning, while creating awareness about the diversity of applications of the invertebrate model.

3. Infuse Technology into Lessons

Advanced technologies like simulation and virtual reality can make it easier to understand the genetics and physiology of an organism. Plus, such technologies can enable theoretical learning and pre-training prior to diving deep into hands-on, experiential training in the lab.

For example, Labster’s invertebrate model system virtual lab teaches the larva-to-adult transition of C. elegans via an elegantly constructed simulation. The students also learn how to distinguish between male and hermaphrodite C. elegans. Further, they virtually cross-breed a mutated male worm with hermaphrodites to generate mutated progeny for genetic and phenotypic analysis.

invertebrate model system virtual lab setup.
Discover Labster's invertebrate model system virtual lab today!

4. Inspire Students Through Career Exploration

Some students might be skeptical about the relevance of culturing worms to elucidate complex biological phenomena. In such cases, it would help to explore the professions where the invertebrate model system has helped make exciting discoveries.

Tell your students how C. elegans is helping neurobiologists unravel the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. Tell them how cancer researchers are employing the invertebrate model to uncover new links between tumor microenvironment and cancer progression.

5. Connect Topic to Real-World Applications

Learning a subject becomes a lot more exciting when one knows how it can help in the real world. Educators should connect the invertebrate model system to its many real-world applications and benefits.

For example, tell your students how C. elegans can model rare monogenic human disorders to help us understand them better. Discuss how invertebrate models can facilitate drug discovery as well as high-throughput toxicity screening of novel drugs. Talk to them about how invertebrate models are cheaper, easier to handle and less time consuming than vertebrate models.

Final thoughts

The invertebrate model system is dramatically transforming biomedical research with its physical simplicity and human-like biological complexity. Educators should develop creative and engaging methods to make this topic interesting for their students. The five creative teaching methods we have listed here can help educate your students about the invertebrate model system while making it an exciting topic.

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