Professors Jeff Moore and Christian Ray wanted their 300-plus undergraduate Chemistry students to have the advantages of joining a broad-based learning community, so they formed project teams and assigned each team to work on advanced genetic and pharmacological questions. Each student team researched a specific drug to understand its interactions with human genetic variation. They then applied their understanding to a case study taken from a single individual. Ultimately, it was their task to find, understand and communicate the molecular origin of interindividual responses to their assigned pharmaceutical.
In the process, they created posters for presentation. Each poster required these mostly first-year students to use custom annotation tracks in GenomeBrowse, prepared with data from the PharmGKB database. In addition, the students analyzed genotype data obtained from a publicly available source. They were also given the option to obtain the same data about their own genotype, which they could analyze privately.
The culmination of the semester’s work was a professional-level scientific poster session in the atrium of the Beckman Institute, a campus landmark of advanced multidisciplinary research collaboration.
Professors Moore and Ray believe that by “...exposing the students to the human genome and the wealth of information that is associated with human genetic variation,” they were able to give freshmen students “...an introduction to the fascinating learning opportunities in modern interdisciplinary science.” By introducing advanced interdisciplinary research, collaborative teamwork, and professional communication experience early in students’ undergraduate careers, they will be more engaged and learning will be more eye-opening and sophisticated in its balance of theory and practical application, perhaps launching greater academic and career aspirations.