Partnership for Research and Education in Plants for Undergraduates

Project Location

PREP-U establishes research collaborations among students, their instructors, and plant scientists to study gene function in Arabidopsis thaliana.

Student Audience

Introductory, Advanced, Major, Non-major

Scientific Domain

  • Genetics/Genomics
  • Plant science

Nature of the Research

  • Wet lab/bench research

Core Concepts

  • Information Flow and Exchange: The growth and behavior of organisms are activated through the expression of genetic information in context.

Core Competencies

  • Applying the process of science
  • Using quantitative reasoning
  • Communicating and collaborating

Guiding Questions

  • How does the genotype of Arabidopsis thaliana plants influence their responses to abiotic stresses?
  • How does the genotype of Arabidopsis thaliana plants influence their responses to biotic stresses?
  • How are root and leaf herbivores affected by the genotype of the Arabidopsis thaliana plants on which they feed?

Learning Objectives

  • Design an experiment to explore the function of a gene.
  • Systematically collect data at biologically important timepoints in a plant's life cycle.
  • Analyze data to reveal differences between wild-type and mutant plants.
  • Interpret results from a controlled experiment involving two variables.
  • Summarize how wild-type versus mutant plants to particular environmental conditions.


PREP-U starts with a discussion, during which the instructor explains to students that their assistance is needed in characterizing the functions of genes in the plant, Arabidopsis thaliana. Students are familiar with the idea that genes help determine characteristics, but usually only visible characteristics such as height or color. Students generate ideas about why a plant with a disabled gene may look completely normal. Students are introduced to the idea that phenotypes may be revealed through the interplay of genes and environment, such that the impact of disabling a gene may be observable only when the plant must respond to changes in its surroundings. Students consider environmental factors that may influence a plant’s growth and are challenged to design and conduct their own eight-week long experiments to compare how mutant plants (i.e., plants with a gene disabled) differ from their wild-type counterparts (i.e., no disabled genes) in their response to an environmental change. Students make comparisons between wild-type and mutant plants and between treated and untreated (i.e., control) plants in order to draw conclusions about the impact of disabling genes on the plants’ responses. Students end by sharing their results and conclusions with each other and/or with scientists who are studying the genes that the students investigated. Scientists ask questions about students' findings and explain how they see the students’ results fitting into what is known in the field. 


Alkaher, I., Dolan, E. (2011). Instructors' Decisions That Integrate Inquiry Teaching Into Undergraduate Courses: How Do I Make This Fit? International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Volume 5, Number 2.

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