THE DNA EXPERIENCE
Genetics is an important component of public health, yet students do not have opportunities to apply genetic concepts outside of a traditional lecture-based classroom. The DNA Experience integrates genetic concepts with hands-on experiments utilizing the 3P’s approach to science education: problem posing, problem solving and peer persuasion.
After isolating their own DNA, students will perform laboratory analyses to understand 1) genetic variation in human populations through repetitive DNA inserts and 2) gene-environment interactions through genetic polymorphisms that predict bitter tasting. Other activities include analyses to test for the presence or absence of genetically-modified (GM) foods, a forensics’ crime scene investigation module, and bioinformatics techniques to navigate the wealth of genetic data freely available on the internet. Students will learn laboratory techniques such as DNA isolation, PCR, gel electrophoresis, use of restriction enzymes, and bioinformatics. Through these activities, student will gain proficiency in genetic concepts such as the structure and function of DNA, population genetics, natural selection, SNP genotyping, and the ethics of genetic testing.
You may have heard of genetics, but have you heard of epigenetics? This dynamic new field has immensely increased our understanding of how the environment (nutrition, chemicals, psychosocial stress) can shape our genetic makeup. Environmental epigenetics bridges the two opposing "nature/nurture" views and provides a platform by which external factors interact with our genes to influence development, health, and well-being. In short, our DNA is NOT our destiny. Through videos and discussions of recent research papers, this seminar will introduce students to environmental epigenetics. Students will gain proficiency in evaluating and critiquing research papers and will be exposed to current environmental epigenetic research papers.
The goals of this course are to introduce students to the basic methodological and design strategies commonly used in molecular epidemiology for environmental health research. Students will learn how the exogenous environment can be captured as meaningful endogenous markers of exposure as well as how fixed (e.g., genetic) and modifiable (e.g., nutrition) factors can be used to identify susceptible or at-risk populations.
Key concepts will include exposure assessment, biomarkers, gene-environmental interactions, windows of susceptibility, and the new emerging field of environmental epigenetics. Study designs such as cross-sectional, case-control, placebo-controlled intervention studies, and retrospective designs for intergenerational studies will be discussed in the context of environmental studies. Classes will consist of didactic lectures and discussions of current published literature on arsenic exposure to facilitate the understanding of key concepts. To gain hands-on experience with molecular epidemiology techniques, a laboratory component will be offered. Students will isolate their own DNA, perform PCR and restriction digest to genotype for selective genes, such as AS3MT and MTHFR. Students will gain proficiency in critically evaluating molecular epidemiology research papers and will be exposed to basic molecular epidemiology laboratory methods.