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The Kaplan Lab at Tufts University Publishes Undergraduate Cell Ag Course Online

New Harvest fellows Andrew, Natalie, and John hope their course materials can be a resource for students and educators at other institutions. 

Published October 2, 2020 | Updated October 4, 2021 | Morgan Ziegelski

From left to right: John, Natalie, and Andrew, New Harvest research fellows in the Kaplan Lab at Tufts University. They co-taught a cellular agriculture course for undergraduate students in Tufts Experimental College.

From left to right: John, Natalie, and Andrew, New Harvest research fellows in the Kaplan Lab at Tufts University. They co-taught a cellular agriculture course for undergraduate students in Tufts Experimental College.

Last spring—for the first time ever—undergraduates at Tufts University in Massachusetts had access to a class all about cellular agriculture. Along with their advisor, Dr. David Kaplan, New Harvest Fellows Natalie Rubio, John Yuen, and Andrew Stout organized a course encompassing cell ag from all angles: the research, the ethics, and the industry. Though national lockdowns cut some of the more interactive parts of the course short, the fellows have plans to reteach the class every spring. They’ve most recently decided to publish all of the course materials online, which can be accessed for free here. I virtually chatted with the three Fellows to hear about how they created the course and its migration online. 

What sort of interest were you seeing from undergrads that prompted you to make the course?

Andrew: A lot of the interest that we saw before the course was through students asking to work in the lab. I think that’s in part because that was the only way to get involved at the time. It was nice that the class allowed us to interact with more students on the topic, since we could only host so many in the lab (and only so many could or were interested in lab work).

To whom were you targeting the class (i.e. engineering students, life sciences students, any student, etc.)?

John: We tried to target a wide range of students and backgrounds, but are now opting to tailor the class for students with a biology/engineering background. When we tried to accommodate everyone, no single party was satisfied (i.e people without background knowledge thought the class was too hard and biology/engineering people thought it was too simple).

How has the class been received at Tufts?

Andrew: I think well? The students who took it seemed enthusiastic (though looking back I know there’s a lot we could have improved, and hopefully will improve on in the future!)

Why put the course materials online?

Natalie: We are excited to foster cellular agriculture at other universities! We hope the course materials will provide some inspiration for professors and students to initiative their own activities. We would also like to keep the course dynamic and collaborative—we would love to add new modules that we implement in future iterations or that other people design and share with us.

What experience should people viewing the course materials online have?

Natalie: People viewing the course materials should look at them as inspiration for their own learning or course design. The lab modules can be adapted, expanded upon and rearranged. We hope people feel comfortable reaching out to Andrew, John and I for questions or help with getting their classes or activities off the ground. We hope people design their own modules and share them with us.

photo of alginate caviar

Alginate caviar prepared for the last class—a Zoom potluck—of Spring 2020 edition of the fellows’ course.

What was your personal favorite part of the course?

Natalie: My favorite part of the course was the sensory analysis module that John designed. Students blind-tasted and characterized eight different types of plant-based milk after being trained to detect off-notes associated with dairy products.

John: Blind plant-based milk taste test (week 10 where we discuss sensory evaluation panels and have students be a sensory evaluation panel).

Andrew: One of the labs was exploring alginate-chitosan as biomaterials for “drawing” hydrogel fibers, and I think it’s a pretty awesome process that I always enjoy, and which always gets a great reaction! Also the final projects of the students were great, in my opinion.

Want to check out the course for yourself? Head to their course website to download all the materials for free!

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About the Authors
Morgan Ziegelski is a former Science Communications Intern at New Harvest. She is from Chicago, IL and currently attends the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA, from where she will receive a BS in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in 2023 and an MS in Bioengineering in 2024. In addition to her work with New Harvest, Morgan has worked under Prof. Rachel Chen at Georgia Tech researching oligosaccharide synthesis biocatalysis and pathway engineering and under Prof. Andres Garcia at Georgia Tech researching PEG hydrogel scaffolds for the synthesis of human intestinal organoids. In her free time, Morgan likes taking care of her houseplants and sings alto in choir.