May 25, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 17

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    Laurens Mets Associate Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology

    By Sharon Parmet
    Medical Center Public Affairs

    Laurens Mets’[laurens mets] by jason smith philosophy of student-centered teaching makes it easy to see why he was awarded a 2000 Quantrell Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

    “Its hard for me to feel like a teacher because the process of education depends more on the students,” said Mets. “I’m just trying to guide their personal inquiries.”

    An expert on plant genetics, Mets, Associate Professor in Molecular Genetics & Cell Biology, teaches Cellular and Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering, undergraduate non-major courses, and Photosynthesis, an elective biology course. He gets the most satisfaction from teaching when he can change a student’s opinion of how one studies biology.

    “It’s common for students to think biology is all about memorization, and they’re surprised to find that it’s based more on logical analysis,” explained Mets. “The most rewarding part of teaching is giving students the basics of biology and then watching them use those underlying principles as their foundation for thinking about more complex ideas instead of just memorizing.”

    Mets’ current research project involves determining the genes and other proteins that make up the centromeres, or centers, of plant chromosomes. Centromeres allow each pair of chromosomes to be pulled to either side of a cell before it divides. Without them, genetic material would not equally divide.

    “If we can figure out what makes the centromere so special, it could have implications for creating artificial chromosomes that may have therapeutic value,” Mets said.

    Creating artificial centromeres may also give biologists another way to create genetically engineered food crops. Mets also is interested in genetically modifying algae to produce hydrogen, which can be used as fuel. “Hydrogen is a great energy source, because when you burn it, it produces water,” said Mets. “We’re using techniques to genetically modify algae to produce more hydrogen than usual.”

    Mets shares his interest in genetic engineering with his students. In his genetic engineering course, he asks students to think of a biological product that is not currently available. He then has them develop a plan to create that product through genetic engineering.

    “It’s a really great project for the students,” said Mets. “One student is working on making rice with more protein, another is working on putting vitamin A in potatoes and another on making a better smelling rose. Part of the lesson is that these things are hard, complicated, detailed and not guaranteed to work.”