Students Map New Gene, Publish Findings

Students Map New Gene, Publish Findings

Students in lab setting sitting behind microscopes, looking at camera smiling

February 06, 2024

Students collaborated with undergraduate researchers through a nation-wide research network to identify a novel gene in fruit flies. Networks like this are helping Anoka-Ramsey students connect to new discoveries and opportunities to build futures in STEM.

Nine Anoka-Ramsey students mapped a mutation to a new gene, contributed to the naming of that gene and published their findings.

Emily Hattling, Carissa Manthie, Trinity May, Hoang Phat Nguyen, Sylvia Gitamo, Luke Johnson, Claylan Mounthachak and Nadia Pobuda worked on the project as part of a genetics course taught by biology faculty member Dr. Paula Croonquist during spring semester 2023. Their research was in partnership with undergraduate researchers at three other institutions and supported through a National Science Foundation network called FlyCURE.

Through their efforts, they identified a novel genetic mutation in fruit flies. The mutation, which presents in the eye of the flies as an enlargement and reddening, inspired student investigators to suggest the name “clifford”, a nod to the big red dog made famous in children’s literature.

Throwing out the ‘Cookbook’

The research that produced these findings was incorporated directly into the students’ course curriculum through a teaching tool known as Course Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE).

This hands-on approach is a deviation from teaching science labs following a formula Croonquist calls, “cookbooks,” meaning manuals that provide instructors with a plan for science labs that lays out the entire process, including conclusions/outcomes. A CURE provides students the opportunity to practice the scientific method by creating and testing a hypothesis.

“When you’re doing art, you’re painting. You know what a painter will do later,” Croonquist says. “When you’re doing music, you’re playing your instrument. You know what it’s like if you want to make a living playing the violin.

“When we teach science courses, especially if the labs are ‘cookbooks’, that’s not what science is about. You’re not starting with a curiosity or a question. The biggest thing we’re modeling [with CUREs] is what happens in the field.”

Embedding Undergraduate Research in Courses CURE to close STEM Equity Gaps?

Student achievements like these add to an inventory of research and literature that suggests CUREs are an effective way to expand access to undergraduate research opportunities.

In the spring of 2023, a group of researchers from academic institutions across the country, including Anoka-Ramsey Biology Instructor Kristen Genet, was awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to investigate the connections between expanding access to undergraduate research opportunities, achieving student learning outcomes and developing a broader community of scientists for the next generation.

“We know that undergraduate research experiences are critical for students in science,” Genet says. "To learn how to do science, you actually have to DO science.”

She continues, “But there’s all kinds of barriers for both students and faculty when it comes to traditional research experiences.

“For faculty at community colleges, minority-serving institutions, or small primarily undergraduate institutions, many obstacles make it difficult to provide students with research experiences: there’s not enough time considering demanding teaching schedules, financial and administrative support, or infrastructure (including space, equipment and supplies). For students, those obstacles could include available time, financial or physical limitations. There could also be limited availability of research opportunities or [a lack of ] knowledge or capability to actively seek out these research experiences due to social or cultural constraints.

“So, using CUREs removes many of these barriers to undergraduate research opportunities because it integrates research directly into the curriculum. Just by being part of the class, students are actively involved in research. And by embedding research into the curriculum, this also becomes part of faculty teaching load and course budgets, removing those institutional barriers as well.”

Strong Foundations for Futures in STEM

Student researcher Trinity May says she’s eyeing a future as a nurse practitioner in gynecology and midwifery. She says the course, research and labs helped her preview her future education and training.

“It was a lot of work,” she says. “Having it be such an in-depth class. We had two labs and we did asynchronous lectures too. The experience of doing that work is something that will carry on.”

For his part, Hoang Phat Nguyen completed his coursework on Anoka-Ramsey’s Biology Transfer Pathway program in May 2023. He’s enrolled at the University of Minnesota and hopes to enroll in medical school in the future.

He says his experience researching and publishing findings at Anoka-Ramsey is a strong building block toward that future goal.

“A lot of medical schools like to see pre-med students publish as much as possible,” Nguyen says. “So the research I did with Dr. Croonquist is very helpful for me.”

Anoka-Ramsey Seeks Legislative Support for Science Building Improvements on Coon Rapids Campus

Anoka-Ramsey is seeking $14.5 million in funding to complete renovations to eight labs and four classrooms, among other spaces. The project calls for updates and replacements of key infrastructure elements, aimed at meeting key goals, among them:

  • Improved safety, workflow and space efficiency at lab prep areas
  • Increased lab size to better comply with current student space requirements
  • Increased equipment quantity for better student-to-equipment ratio
  • Increased bench work area for safer student work zones
  • Enhanced teaching positions and technology in classrooms and labs equates to a more productive learning environment

“The design of the new science building is grounded in evidence-based, best-practice teaching in STEM, specifically inquiry-based experimentation and other student-centered lab pedagogy that is necessary for closing the equity gap for historically underserved students while improving the success of all students,” Anoka-Ramsey STEM Dean of Academic Affairs Rebecca Krystyniak says.

Anoka-Ramsey’s request is just a piece of a much larger puzzle in the Minnesota State system during the 2024 legislative session. The system is seeking $541.4 million in funding, with investments of $427.6 million in state funding and $113.8 million in college and university support.

To learn more about the Minnesota State 2024 Capital Request at


This feature appeared in the 2024 Anoka-Ramsey Community Newsletter. View a full PDF version of this story and additional pieces

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