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Courses That Change Your Life: Applied Biodiversity Genetics (Biol 360)

Posted by lindsaybarden in College Program in Faculty | Oct 11, 2015

With Geographic Information Systems (GIS), molecular DNA analysis has become and will continue to be a dominant technology of investigation in environmental science and conservation biology for at least the next two decades. Because of the opportunity it provides to investigate the characteristics of plant and animal populations in non-invasive ways, using material from feces, hair, urine, skin and skeletal material, skills in the use of molecular DNA analysis will be at a premium for employment and graduate school admissions, as its applications are both versatile and cost effective. Students taking Applied Biodiversity Genetics will gain a greater, deeper, firsthand understanding of DNA sequences and structures, and the complex mathematical bioinformatics tools used to analyze them, as well as a greater grasp of basic and advanced chemistry in manipulating chemical solutions of enzymes, buffers, detergents and solvents needed to isolate genetic material and replicate it using the technique of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). 

In conceptual analysis, students, guided by Dr. Ben Van Ee, will be shown how to construct investigative hypotheses using these techniques and approaches, and will apply them in the field collecting plant and animal specimens and tissue samples from each (like bear hair, porcupine quills, bird feathers, and all manner of interesting stuff). 

As one former student noted, “Already having taken a genetics course but not fully understanding the subject material, this class supplemented all of that information so that I hopefully will apply this to future research, now knowing much more from taking this course. The objective of having a research project and many manuscripts to read in…preparation [for] grad classes was very useful.”  Nathan Hadley of Wheaton College, a veteran of the 2013 class noted, “I wasn’t looking forward to Molecular Tools*, but Ben’s excitement for the material rubbed off on me, and by the end of the course I was pretty excited about organizing DNA sequences on my computer. It was really beneficial to go through the whole process of collecting plant material to extracting its DNA, sequencing it, and finally analyzing it.”

No student who is serious about having a competitive advantage for employment or graduate school admission can afford to be without these skills, or pass on an opportunity to obtain them in such an effective educational setting.

Ben Van Ee, who teaches Applied Biodiversity Genetics, is the author of over 30 publications in molecular DNA analysis and plant systematics in two languages (English and Spanish), with his work represented in some of the best journals in his discipline, including American Journal of Botany, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, Systematic Botany, and Taxon. Reflecting on the value of these skills after many years of using and mastering them, Ben notes, “Understanding the applications of molecular biology, particularly the powerful tool of DNA analysis, is essential for organismal biologists. Whether you go on to use DNA applications in your own work or research, or apply the information obtained from genetic studies as a manager, you will greatly benefit from a more thorough understanding of molecular methods. This course provides a solid introduction to this broad topic from the perspective of a field, and organismal, biologist.”


*Applied Biodiversity Genetics was formerly titled "Molecular Tools for the Field Biologist" as mentioned in the student quote above