Practically, the teaching team selects, from the neXtProt database, a few genes (between 3 and 7) coding for proteins whose function is still unknown. The students are then grouped in triads to work on a particular gene. The groups can work on a specific gene or on the same gene depending on the teaching team's proposal.
The teaching team is composed of 3 tutors who coordinate the groups of students and follow their work throughout the course. The teaching is organized in alternating theoretical classes that provide the basic material necessary for the work required and practical work (TP) where the students advance their research work. After a few theory classes, the rest of the sessions are essentially dedicated to research and exploration.
Each group of students has the mission to collect clues on the function of the protein produced by this gene in different resources. This exploration work carried out by the students allows them to ultimately formulate a research hypothesis on the functionality of the protein being studied. The teaching team provides a roadmap to guide the groups in their work and research methodology and informs them of the tools at their disposal. There are 3 main categories of tools to carry out investigations: literature (reference search engines, e.g., PubMed), databases (more than 2'000 more or less specialized, e.g., Human Protein Atlas) and predictor sites (programs that predict the three-dimensional structure of proteins based on their sequence, for example, or their location in the cell). The groups are helped and guided in their work so that they do not drown in the mass of information available. They are encouraged to keep a critical mind on the tools they discover and to question their limits. The important thing is that they can use a reliable work methodology to obtain the right information by correctly setting up the chosen tools. To transcribe the results of their investigations and write their hypotheses, students work on a shared document with Google Docs (the institutional alternative OneDrive is also suitable).
For the evaluation of the course, in addition to a quiz for the theoretical part (¼ of the grade for the MCQ part), each trinomial must defend during an oral presentation (¾ of the grade for the research part) its hypothesis on the function of the protein it investigated. During this 10-minute presentation, each group of students will have the opportunity to explain to the rest of the class their approach, their choice of tools and possible counterhypotheses. The group will also have to answer questions asked by the teaching team.
The groups' work is taken up by the teaching team for verification and the content is reinjected into the scientific research community. The hypotheses put forward by the groups can thus be the subject of scientific articles written by the teaching team. Students are strongly encouraged to participate in this process. The published hypotheses can then be taken up and investigated by research teams. If these hypotheses are validated experimentally, the data will be added to the neXtProt platform.