Seafood mislabeling is a significant global problem, with health and social consequences. Last spring, undergraduate science students at UNC-Chapel Hill had the opportunity to conduct research on the issue in a new type of research-intensive course that goes by the acronym CURE: course-based undergraduate research experience.
Students enrolled in “Seafood Forensics” learned about the scope of the problem and the challenges that prevent accurate labeling. They learned to develop novel research questions, design and carry out experiments, use DNA barcoding and other technologies to test their samples, and present and report on their results in a journal-worthy format. They also learned a fundamental science lesson — how to cope with unexpected outcomes.
“Our research was focused on the Chapel Hill area, and we were using chain and local restaurants as our source of fish, specifically fish tacos and tilapia,” said junior biology major Chloe Brown. “Our first protocol for extracting DNA wasn’t working very well. We aren’t sure why, but it could have been due to the fact that the fish was cooked and not raw.”
Experiment “surprises” offer important lessons for aspiring scientists and are one of many learning outcomes CUREs offer, said John Bruno, a biology professor who co-developed and co-teaches “Seafood Forensics” with Blaire Steinwand, STEM lecturer, molecular biologist and chair of the team working to expand the CURE initiative.
Story by Cyndy Falgout for the College of Arts & Sciences. Video by Rob Holliday. The text story was published first in Spring 2017 issue of Carolina Arts & Sciences, produced by the College of Arts & Sciences. Published on the UNC-Chapel Hill website on July 24, 2017.