In recent years, providing authentic and unique research experiences for undergraduates has become increasingly important, yet many educational institutions struggle to provide their students with such experiences. Engaging students in hands-on research is meant to increase their problem-solving skills and help them learn how to work in a collaborative environment. Unfortunately, many students never receive a genuine research experience in their undergraduate biology courses. We developed a semester-long, laboratory-based research project in which students worked in groups to investigate the prevalence of fish mislabeling in local restaurants and grocery stores using DNA barcoding. During the experimental process, students learned fundamental molecular techniques like DNA extraction, polymerase chain reaction, gel electrophoresis, and DNA sequence analysis. Students also developed soft skills linked to working in teams and science communication. Over the course of the project, students collected their own fish samples and were responsible for their team's lab workflow throughout the semester. Some groups (12/25) identified instances of mislabeling on the basis of DNA evidence. Students synthesized their results in a full scientific manuscript and ended the semester by disseminating their results in a class-wide poster symposium. Collectively, the students documented that ~21% (26/123) of the fish samples they had collected from local restaurants and at grocery stores in the Greater Lansing area were mislabeled. This project gave students the time and space needed to master molecular techniques (often through trial and error), and it engaged them in a place-based learning setting as they investigated the incidence of fish mislabeling in their local community.

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