An educational grant from the genetics testing firm 23andMe Inc. will enable some Southeastern Louisiana University students taking undergraduate biology courses the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of genetics than in a traditional course.
Biology instructor Tara Turley-Stoulig was awarded 100 23andMe Health + Ancestry Service kits after applying to the 23andMe Education Grant program. Turley-Stoulig was selected as one of the three grand prizewinners for her innovative teaching proposal that advances genetics education.
“We will be using the 23andMe Health + Ancestry Service to give students the opportunity to gain greater insight into basic genetics,” Turley-Stoulig said. “These will be very interactive classes with lots of participation by the students.”
Approximately 100 students in her introductory biology course and genetics course will have the option to participate in the project.
Turley-Stoulig believes students are expected to show significantly more interest in the topic of genetics when their personal profiles are involved.
“The project will enhance the biology learning experience and provide a mechanism by which students become aware of technologies and information that they may not otherwise have exposure to,” she explained. “In addition, I think this may encourage students to pursue studies in genetics and other STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines.”
Students involved in the project will take a pre-assessment test to gauge their current knowledge of genetics and an after-project test to determine what they learned.
Turley-Stoulig said the science behind the genetics testing will be discussed, including the processing of the sample and how the data is generated. Included will be instruction on the molecular techniques used in the lab.
Using the 23andMe kits, the students will provide a saliva sample in the tube provided in the kit. Once results are available online, the class will be able to talk about what the data means, Turley-Stoulig said.
“We will involve the students in learning how to interpret the data from their results so they can see frequencies of certain variants in the class and learn about human traits,” she said. “It’s important that the students learn what the data can and cannot tell you.”
A final aspect of the program involves a collaboration with the Southeastern Department of Computer Science and Industrial Technology. Working with assistant professor of computer science John Burris, the students can opt-in to share their 23andMe genetic data to be mapped in mathematical algorithms to yield an artistic rendition of their genetic information. The algorithms will be used to create a musical rendition of each student’s genetic data and a piece of computer-generated visual art.
“This is an unusual approach to genetics data interpretation, but it is a fun and creative approach that allows students to appreciate their genetic makeup in a different light,” Turley-Stoulig said.
“We expect this project to enhance the biology learning experiences for undergraduate students,” she said. “Research shows that diverse modes of instruction result in increased learning, and by employing this model the students will be exposed to higher-level lab skills and techniques that are not generally covered with students at this level.”