The COVID-19 and Taste Lab: A Mini Course-Based Undergraduate Research Experience on Taste Differences and COVID-19 Susceptibility

Robert J. Wickham1, Walter Adams2*, and Morgan J. Hawker3*
1Psychology Department, Lafayette College, Easton, PA 18042; 2Department of Biological Sciences, San José State University, San José, CA 95192; 3Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry California State University – Fresno, Fresno, CA 93740.  *These authors contributed equally.

Traditional course-based undergraduate research experiences (CUREs) are common approaches to expose students to authentic laboratory practices. Traditional CUREs typically take up most of or an entire semester, require a laboratory section or may be a standalone lab course, and require significant financial and time commitments by the institution and instructors. As such, CUREs are harder to implement at institutions with fewer resources. Here, we developed a mini-CURE, which are typically shorter in duration, called the COVID-19 and Taste Lab (CT-LAB). The CT-LAB requires significantly fewer resources ($0.05/student) and time commitment (two class periods) than traditional CUREs. CT-LAB centers around the biological relationship between COVID-19 susceptibility and taste status (non-taster, taster, and supertaster) as well as potential implications for public policy behavior. Students participated in a class-wide study where they examined if taste status was related to COVID-19 susceptibility. They found that non-tasters had a higher likelihood of testing positive previously for COVID-19 compared to tasters and supertasters. To assess student outcomes of this CURE, students completed a pre- and post-test assessment including a content test, STEM identity survey, taste test, COVID-19 history test, and a modified CURE survey. Content test scores improved while STEM identity and attitudes about science were unchanged. A direct comparison to a repository of traditional CUREs shows that the CT-LAB produced comparable benefits to traditional CUREs primarily in skills that were particularly relevant for the CT-LAB. This work suggests that mini-CUREs, even as brief as two class periods, could be a way to improve student outcomes.