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Plant Detectives Manual: a research-led approach for teaching plant science

About this manual

This manual provides a collection of detailed protocols to perform plant physiology experiments. Our aim was to design and implement a series of related experiments for you, the student, to experience a real research project. We expect that these activities will help you to acquire basic experimental techniques and skills in results interpretation. The techniques are a compilation of research methods that we have established over the years. The type of experiments and research questions used in this manual are based on our experience in studying the model plant Arabidopsis as well as in other species. Our project will focus on Arabidopsis because of its suitability to the research approach and because of the breadth of resources available.


The manual starts with a general information section describing the experimental system, main objectives and expected outcomes. Next, we describe an ‘Outline’ of activities (or experiments) which detail procedures to perform a variety of experiments, ranging from morphological analyses to investigation of photosynthetic parameters.


Each activity is divided into the following sections:


Introduction and objectives: a brief introduction presenting topical information to put the activity into context and outlining the main objectives.


Materials: a list of materials (both chemical solutions and instruments) required for the activity. Warning signs using the hazard pictograms from the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals are used to denote chemicals that are hazardous. We recommend you read Appendix A: General rules for safety and conduct, for additional information.


Procedure: a detailed explanation of the experimental procedure follows in table format. The right column describes the procedure while the left column indicates which materials are required for specific steps. All links to external websites are also described in text format in Appendix D: Databases and web resources. ‘Alternative’ procedures have been included with the aim to provide other (usually less costly) ways to run the experiments. ‘Optional’ refers to activities, or part of an activity, that are may not be required; consult your instructor.


Expected outcomes: individual expected outcomes for each activity are also detailed to help you to understand the kind of data that has to be collected or how the data should be analysed and the results presented.


The last activity subsection describes the expected outcomes and data to be recorded. Activity 12 provides directions about writing a scientific manuscript based on the instructions for contributing authors of the peer-reviewed journal Functional Plant Biology. We also provide basic tips and advice on grammar and style for writing a scientific paper as well as for the oral symposium presentation.


We have included a section introducing you to principles of experimental design and the text boxes at the start of each activity indicate which of these design principles are more relevant for that activity. Appendix B: What do I do with my data?, is essential reading for the early career plant detective.


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