The Rice University Academies for AP® Teachers offer an opportunity to delve deeply into specific course content with higher education faculty and to connect to their discipline’s current work. This unique professional development model provides teachers the depth of content needed to improve their instruction and increase student achievement.


This course is designed for experienced teachers of Advanced Placement Biology who are looking to enrich their courses with knowledge of research and science practices currently being conducted in science labs at Rice and beyond. Participants will engage with Rice University faculty and others in in-depth discussions of their current research, as well as related content. We will learn about content not yet in our textbooks, while also exploring the connections between that content and the current AP Biology curriculum framework.


For this year’s Academy, we will also look at the recently announced significant changes made to the AP Biology Curriculum and Exam Description that will be in place for the 2019-2020 school year.


What participants should bring:

Laptop for use during the institute

Flash Drive


Lead instructor

Robert Dennison, M.Ed. has taught all levels of high school biology during his 41-year career in public education. He has been an AP Biology consultant for the College Board since 1995 and has presented at local, state, national and international science conferences. He has been a featured general session speaker at the annual conventions of the National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT). Robert has won numerous teaching awards, including the NABT Outstanding Biology Teacher award, the TABT Honorary Life Membership award, the College Board’s Southwestern Region AP Special Recognition award, the H-E-B Lifetime Achievement award for excellence in teaching and the O’Donnell Texas AP Teacher award.


Tuesday, 8:00 – 8:30 AM, Robert Dennison, lead instructor

Overview of the Week


Tuesday, 8:30 – 11:30 AM Jeff Tabor, PhD, Rice University

Using synthetic biology to engineer next generation antibiotics

Antibiotic resistance is an urgent threat, with antibiotic-resistant bacteria causing 2 million infections every year in the United States. In pathogenic bacteria, antibiotic resistance and virulence are frequently regulated by two-component systems (TCSs), the primary means by which bacteria sense their external environments. These TCSs often sense antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), a promising source of novel, next-generation antimicrobials and in response, activate pathways that confer resistance to these molecules, hindering their antimicrobial effects. Because of the role these TCSs play in AMP resistance, next-generation peptide-based therapeutics should either avoid activating these sensors, thereby bypassing AMP resistance pathways, or specifically inhibit them, preventing them from upregulating AMP resistance and virulence genes even under otherwise activating conditions. Here, we aim to identify novel peptide-based therapeutics that meet these criteria for the TCS PhoPQ, an AMP sensor and global regulator of virulence in many Gram-negative pathogens including Salmonella typhimurium. First, we engineered and ported S. typhimurium PhoPQ to E. coli to enable precise control of PhoP and PhoQ gene expression. We then adapted an existing peptide screening approach to enable high-throughput measurement of peptide-mediated activation and inhibition of PhoPQ. Through preliminary screens, we validated that known peptide activators of PhoPQ are able to activate this sensor using our approach. We also identified a putative peptide inhibitor of PhoPQ with potential anti-virulence properties. In the future, we will screen PhoPQ against a large, random peptide library to identify additional therapeutically-relevant peptides and to further elucidate peptide properties required for PhoPQ activation and inhibition. By studying PhoPQ-peptide interactions, we will advance our understanding of the biology of a critical regulator of bacterial virulence and discover novel therapeutics for treating antibiotic-resistant infections.


Dr. Tabor is an Associate Professor of Bioengineering at Rice University. He earned his Ph.D. at UT-Austin in 2006 studying the design and evolution of synthetic biological systems with Andy Ellington. There he led a team that engineered E. coli to function as a high-resolution photographic film. He went on to be an NIH postdoctoral fellow with Chris Voigt at UCSF. Here, he re-programmed the bacterial film to function as a parallel computer capable of performing the challenging image processing task of edge detection. He started his lab at Rice in 2010. Here, he has focused on using light to control gene expression (optogenetics) and engineering diagnostic and therapeutic gut bacteria.

His work has been covered in numerous international media outlets including the New York Times, and he has received several national awards including the NSF CAREER and ONR Young Investigator.


Tuesday, 1:00 – 3:30 PM Robert Dennison

  1. DNA barcoding lab (open ended inquiry into biodiversity); or Taking Mendel Molecular (genotyping Fast Plants with miniPCR)
  2. Introduction to the new AP Biology Curriculum and Exam Description (CED) and New Teacher Resources


Wednesday, all day: Special Guest Speaker for the 2019 Academy

Dennis Liu, PhD, Vice President for Education, E. O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation

A nationally recognized expert in science education, Dennis Liu directed the production of educational media at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, designing multimedia science education programs. Now with the EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, he works with educators and scientists to bring the vision of the Half-Earth Project to teachers and students through standards-based resources and a Half-Earth Project Educator Ambassador Program.


During his full day with Advanced Topics Academy, Dennis will focus on the research being done by the Half-Earth Project and how the work to map biodiversity and human impacts is relevant to the AP Biology curriculum and other important standards and frameworks. See http://eowilsonfoundation.org/half-earth-project/ and https://www.half-earthproject.org/


Dennis studied zoology at the University of Wisconsin, earned a PhD in Biology from the University of Oregon, then conducted research and taught in the department of Genetics at the University of Washington. He has a passion for explaining diverse science to diverse audiences.


Thursday, 8:00 – 11:30 AM Dr. Laura Lavery, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine

Epigenetics and brain development

Our DNA encodes the information of life, yet the cells in our body are different depending on the system of the body in which they function. This diversification is essential for complex organisms like humans. So how does this happen? Epigenetic mechanisms, such as methylation of DNA, regulate our DNA to set unique patterns of gene expression in our cells, which in turn create the necessary cell types. In the mammalian brain, there is a unique form of methylation that marks our DNA after we are born up until 25 years of life. My talk will focus on this form of methylation, termed “mCH”, and what we are leaning about its function and mechanism in the brain.


Dr. Laura Lavery earned her Ph.D. with David Agard, Ph.D., at the University of California, San Francisco where she studied the structure and function of an essential chaperone protein that helps the other proteins in our cells fold so they can perform their native functions. She is currently a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Huda Zoghbi, MD, at Baylor College of Medicine studying the mechanism and impact of a unique form of DNA methylation in our brains.


Thursday, 1:00 - 3:30 PM Evan Siemann, PhD, Harry C & Olga K Weiss Professor of Biosciences, Rice University

Dr. Siemann’s research focuses on how intra- and inter-specific trait variation impact biotic interactions. During the session today we will look at ongoing research in his lab into topics such as:

  1. how differences in interactions in the native and introduced ranges of plants change invasive plant traits and feedback to invasion success;
  2. how changing environmental conditions shape invasion likelihood and impacts; and
  3. how to restore invaded ecosystems.


Friday, all day, Robert Dennison

AM: GMO Lab and a new Enzyme Lab

PM: Complete our look at the new AP Bio CED and teacher resources


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