Innovative course boosts research opportunities

by Eric Gorton


Biology faculty at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, are having success providing course-based undergraduate research experiences to first-year undergraduates in large-enrollment classes with more than 100 students. This approach is meeting national calls across higher education for large-scale engagement of early-career undergraduate students in authentic STEM research experiences. 

The faculty members state, "To our knowledge, this is among the largest-enrollment CUREs being offered to first-year undergraduates in the United States, and we hope that it can be useful to other institutions interested in documenting biodiversity and engaging introductory biology students in authentic research." 

In this series of labs, first-year students use DNA barcoding to engage in authentic research practices drawn from the fields of ecology, molecular biology and bioinformatics. The labs enable students to identify local species of plants, fungi and invertebrates using student-generated DNA barcode sequences, which are then shared through a public database. Since their implementation at JMU in 2016, students in these labs have created and shared more than 1,500 unique DNA barcode sequences and documented more than 300 local species of plants, fungi and invertebrates. 

The research has been published in the journal CourseSource.


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Media contact: Eric Gorton, (540) 908-1760,

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Published: Thursday, June 13, 2019

Last Updated: Wednesday, February 24, 2021

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