Introductory Research Lab Courses

Jump to the introductory research lab course list.

"Hands down, best class I took at Pitt!" - Emily Klonicki, Fall 2014/Spring 2015

Introductory research lab courses fulfill requirements of traditional biology labs while students engage in the discovery process of tackling real research. The research questions are generated by faculty, but approaches and methods are feasible for students participating in research for the first time. Every term is a little different from the last; coursework adapts as discoveries are made or challenges are faced in preceding semesters. Courses are designed to maximize student experience and learning while doing meaningful research. Hear from former students and learn more about each course below!


Am I ready to start research?

The simple answer is YES! If you are ready to learn and have an open mind, you are ready for research. Instructors design the course at a realistic level for students and teach the basics in the context of research. Homework assignments will always be meaningful to your research. Will there be hard work? Yes. All biology labs at Pitt are challenging. However, in these courses, the work is towards real research. Some of the courses have prerequisites, so be sure to check that you have completed those as needed.


Real research is for you if...

You want to tackle real-world problems that scientists around the globe are trying to solve.

You want to learn techniques that are used in faculty research labs at Pitt.

You want to make novel discoveries.

How will performing undergraduate research in a lab course help me?

While earning biology lab credit, you'll develop skills and knowledge that are useful, not only in your undergraduate studies, but also in your future endeavors beyond Pitt! You will build critical thinking and scientific reasoning skills as you analyze your data with peers and the course instructor. Additionally, your written and oral communication skills will strengthen as you present your findings to small groups of labmates and at a formal poster session at the end of the course. With guidance, you will choose your own experimental pathway as you learn basic lab skills and continue to grow these talents.




Introductory Research Lab Course Choices


Two Semester Course:

SEA-Phages Virus Hunting Lab

Biosc 0058/Biosc 0068

Image Discover and name your own virus

This is a two-semester series for students who plan to take both semesters of introductory biology. In the first semester, you will discover, isolate, characterize and name your own, novel bacteria-infecting virus. You will isolate the DNA from your virus and take pictures of it using an electron microscope. With the rest of your class, you’ll choose some of the viruses for DNA sequencing. In the second semester you learn computer tools to study the information encoded in the DNA and work in teams to generate hypotheses based on the DNA sequence. You’ll also learn to design your own experiments and carry them out to make new discoveries. This course is part of a national research program directed by the laboratory of Dr. Graham Hatfull in the Department of Biological Sciences. Links: SEA-Phage Videos, Graham Hatfull

One Semester Courses (with Biosc0050 and Biosc0160 as prerequisites)

Pathways Over Time

Biosc 0067
Topic: Metabolic Pathways

Explore the evolution of metabolic pathways

In Pathways Over Time students will explore the evolution of metabolic pathways and will be introduced to concepts in bioinformatics, molecular biology, cell biology, genetics and evolution through hands-on experiments.  Using yeast as a model system and employing a range of techniques, students should expect to make novel findings in this brand new exciting course.  At the end of the semester they will present their research at a poster session.

Water Channels in Disease

Biosc 0067
Topic: Water Channels

Image Take a look at real gene mutations that cause Diabetes Insipidus

The movement of water in and out of cells is a fundamental cellular process whose disruption can cause disease. In this course you will study mutations in the DNA encoding a kidney membrane water channel called aquaporin 2. People with these mutations have the disease diabetes insipidus, but the reason the mutant aquaporin proteins fail to function is unknown and will be the focus of your research in this course. You will test the production and stability of the protein using our yeast model system. You will also use this model system to develop tests for whether the protein forms a functional water channel and run these experiments to test your own hypotheses of how the mutation may cause disease. This research is connected to work from Dr. Buck and Dr. Kaufmann. Links: Nancy Kaufmann

Small World

Biosc 0067
Topic: Small World

Hunt for new antibiotics to fight the challenge of drug-resistance

Medical antibiotic development by pharmaceutical companies has slowed tremendously, while many prescribed antibiotics are losing efficacy due to increasing antibiotic resistance in pathogens. This health crisis drives the research you will perform in this course. You will isolate antibiotic-producing bacteria from soil you collect on campus, characterize the producers and extract their metabolites, while contributing your findings to a database shared by a network of student researchers around the world. By sharing our findings in this global program, we hope to have an impact on the antibiotic crisis. You have the option to carry forward your research from this course in honors organic chemistry lab, where you will learn to purify, characterize and identify the active compounds from your soil bacteria. Links: Small World Initiative

Hear from a student's perspective of what Small World is about:


DNA Regulation and Disease

Biosc 0067
Topic: DNA Regulation


Investigate a protein involved in DNA storage that's defective in several human cancers

DNA is tightly and carefully packaged in cell nuclei, but must also be accessible for highly controlled processes such as transcription, replication, and repair.  In this course, you will research how DNA packaging and access are controlled and investigate how mis-regulation of a protein involved in these processes can lead to cancer. You will learn to plan, execute, and interpret experiments using common molecular biological techniques as you generate novel mutant proteins that affect DNA organization using yeast as a model organism.  You will also read current scientific literature to understand how the proteins involved in DNA packaging result in human disease and consider how your findings could apply to human disease studies. Links: Karen Arndt

Animal behavior: spiders

Biosc 0067
Topic: Social Spiders


Study how bacteria living on animals can affect behavior

Bacteria are all over and inside of us, yet we know extremely little about the roles they may play in directing host behavior and affecting individual differences in behavior (i.e., animal personalities). In this course, you will isolate and identify bacteria living on spiders using multiple techniques, including DNA sequencing. Meanwhile, you will learn different spider behavioral assays measuring aggression and boldness. With this tool kit, you will try to predict how the bacteria may affect the behavior of the spider and then run experiments to test your predictions. This work is developed by researchers in Dr. Jonathan Pruitt’s laboratory. Links: Jonathan Pruitt

Neurobiology: Cell Morphogenesis

Biosc 0067
Topic: Neural Development


Discover genes that control cell shape

During human fetal development, a flat layer of cells bends to form the neural tube.  Failure to properly form this tube leads to severe brain and spinal cord defects.  In this course, you will research a protein called Shroom which regulates cell shape changes in most animals.  Mice without the Shroom3 protein have neural tubes which “mushroom out” during development and fruit flies with extra Shroom protein have defective eyes and wings.  You will search for proteins that cooperate with Shroom to change cell shape in fruit flies using genetic approaches and assessing for changes in eyes and wings.  You will develop hypotheses about which proteins work with Shroom and how they might control shape change and use microscopy to test your predictions.  This work is directly connected to research in Dr. Jeff Hildebrand’s lab. Links: Jeffrey Hildebrand