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DNA Barcoding—Cutting Edge Research in Biology
07.22.14 |
Dr. Robert Carey, assistant professor of biology, and Dr. Rebecca Urban, associate professor of biology, want their students to be at the cutting edge of interdisciplinary research in their fields of ecology and genetics. “The DNA revolution of the mid- to late-20th century and the genomics revolution of the early 21st century have changed the ways in which biologists ask questions about complex issues such as biodiversity,” Carey says. “Dr. Urban and I decided to create an interdisciplinary project, through the President’s Innovation Fund, to offer our students a more accurate representation of modern biology field research.”

“This interdisciplinary model represents a new and exciting way of teaching biology at LVC,” Carey notes. “It allows us to build on the existing quality of instruction and faculty expertise while adding an essential interdisciplinary component.”

Students in Dr. Urban’s ecology lab (BIO 312L) will collect and sample stream invertebrates in local creeks, then share the samples with Dr. Carey’s genetics lab (BIO 201). His students will then isolate and further process DNA from stream macroinvertebrates (insects, crustaceans, mollusks, arachnids, and annelids—all important food sources).

“Part of that understanding of a fragile world for biologists should include an understanding of the intricate web of organisms that inhabit its waterways,” Urban adds. “This collaborative learning enterprise will enable us to develop and test a modern interdisciplinary course and to provide an imbedded laboratory experience for the 40–50 students who take Ecology and Genetics each year.”

As is the tradition at LVC, student-faculty research and collaboration will be a primary component of the new model. Connor McDonald ’15, a junior biology major who studied in New Zealand this spring, is working with Dr. Carey and Dr. Urban this summer to develop the protocols.

McDonald, who conducted an independent research project on the painted turtle population at LVC in fall 2013, is experienced in the use of many lab instruments and methods for multiple biology related areas of study, including ecology and genetics. Also a member of the College’s NCAA soccer team, McDonald is a tutor in biology and chemistry, a member of the Tri Beta National Biological Honor Society, and a recipient of the College’s Natural Sciences Departmental honors.

Ultimately, the two classes will come together where students from each class will present on their work. “This will cause a reemphasis on the importance of molecular techniques in addressing ecological questions and exemplify an application of DNA sequencing technology,” Urban says. “Of equal importance, it will provide the students an opportunity to practice communicating science orally to a group of their peers and to help break down siloes that often exist between these two fields.” 

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