BIO159Y Modeling Human Disease

Narendra Pathaknpathak@smith.eduSmith College

Project Location

This is a full year course for first year students focused on modeling Autism spectrum disorders with Zebrafish.

Student Audience


Scientific Domain

  • Bioinformatics/Computational biology
  • Developmental biology
  • Environmental science
  • Genetics/Genomics
  • Human health and nutrition
  • Molecular and cellular biology
  • Neuroscience
  • Physiology

Nature of the Research

  • Wet lab/bench research
  • Informatics/computational research
  • Basic research
  • Applied research
  • Translational research
  • Database research

Core Concepts

  • Structure and Function: Basic units of structure define the function of all living things.
  • Information Flow and Exchange: The growth and behavior of organisms are activated through the expression of genetic information in context.
  • Systems: Living systems are interconnected and interacting.

Core Competencies

  • Applying the process of science
  • Using quantitative reasoning
  • Using modeling and simulation
  • Tapping into the interdisciplinary nature of science
  • Communicating and collaborating
  • Understanding the relationship between science and society

Guiding Questions

  • What are the developmental consequences of a loss of Autism Specific Gene Knockouts during Zebrafish embryonic brain development?

Learning Objectives

  • Read, analyze and critique primary literature
  • Generate, develop, and implement a novel experimental design
  • Use bioinformatics, molecular biology, CRISPR/Cas9 mutagensis, and the Zebrafish model system to study human disease.
  • Analyze one's own results critically and respond with next step questions and experiments.
  • Create both platform (powerpoint) and poswer presentations of their research as well as be able to confidently deliver these presentations to the scientific community


Accurate animal models help scientists to investigate the pathology and potential treatments associated with a particular disease. This course will attempt to generate gene specific models of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the zebrafish. Students will learn how to read primary literature, research ASD, and engage directly with scientists in the field to understand all facets influencing the causes and pathology of ASD. We will employ the latest in gene mutagenesis to manipulate disease targets, and grow up these potential zebrafish models of ASD for long term analysis to better understand ASD and identify therapeutic targets. Students will generate tangible products of their experimental design and novel results that will be publicly disseminated. 

This course is designed to engage students in a personally relevant investigation that could generate both exciting and publication worthy results to impact our world. It provides students the environment to foster an appreciation for how many disciplines in the life sciences can and should converge to solve a problem as well as reaffirm student interests and confidence in pursuing science.

Fall Semester (2 credits): Students meet once a week for three hours to discuss the biological principles relevant to ASD. Students also conduct hand-on laboratory experiments that 1- introduce them to key lab skills needed in this research and 2- commence with the research to knockout specific ASD associated genes in zebrafish. Students are evaluated on their analysis of their readings, written research proposal and presentation of this proposal at the end of the first semester. 

Spring Semester (3 credits): Students meet twice a week, and focus on carrying out experiments that test the role of our chosen gene targets as well as potential environmental contributions.  Students will learn behavioral, cellular, and molecular techniques to analyze our zebrafish models of ASD. This being real research, students need to be flexible and react in a timely manner to problems that may arise or interesting conclusions to the results. Students are expected to support experiments outside of scheduled time blocks. Students will present a poster at the Society for Developmental Biology conference at the end of the year

Getting Started

Seed money for this project came from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the form of a grant awarded to Smith College.


Each week preparation ~ 4-6 hours

Member Contact

Pathak, Narendra Smith College

Class time

1st semester 3 hrs/wk; 2nd sem 6h/wk