Myelin basic protein and how it grew into authentic biology: Empowering students to undertake genuine authentic research

2 - 6 May 2016

The Myelin Basic Protein Project (MBP2) started seven years ago in response to the expert's wife's diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis. As a former research biochemist and teacher for more than 10 years, he thought it was a good idea to fuse these two specialisms and initiate a school based research programme for Sixth Form students (17-18 years old) to carry out a work on a protein associated with the development of MS.

The expert obtained funding from the Wellcome Trust to start MBP2 and the project was supported by scientists at the School of Biosciences at the University of Kent (also based in Canterbury). They cloned the human gene for MBP and expressed the protein in yeast. They have identified post-translational modifications (phosphorylation events) and used site-directed mutagenesis to create new versions of the MBP protein in yeast. They are now looking at a second protein from the myelin sheath (proteolipid protein) to see if it is possible to develop a protein-protein interaction assay to determine the effect of the mutations. Over 600 students have been involved in this project since it began.

Due to the success of this project in our school, the Wellcome Trust encouraged the project team to extend this model of student-led investigative work and now six other schools across the UK are carrying out their own novel research projects in areas such as diabetes, heart disease and inflammation. This programme is called Authentic Biology.

This DLA would seek to inform other teachers of this work and encourage them to develop their own research project and seek support or funding from their local university, hospital or industry. This is the aim of IRIS (the Institute for Research in Schools) which is a newly formed organisation dedicated to promoting and encouraging student–led research in schools.

More About the Expert

Dave Colthurst started his research career as a science technician at the University of Kent. Having completed a masters and a PhD in biochemistry, he had a brief spell in the pharmaceutical industry before re-training as a teacher. His teaching career spanned the full range of schools in Kent, but for the past 15 years he has been based at the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury. Following his wife's diagnosis with MS, he established MBP2 – the Myelin Basic Protein Project. This project is funded by the Wellcome Trust through their public engagement programme and has grown into a National schools research programme called Authentic Biology.