Bachelors in Biology students focus on DNA testing, research and discovery

William Woods Undergraduate

Bachelors in biology students

It can take you on a journey through your ancestry and help you identify where you came from and those who came before you. It can trace the origin of diseases to help combat future epidemics, and it can be used to help save the wildlife in our streams and rivers.

DNA is a powerful tool — and bachelors in biology students looking to broaden their knowledge or hoping to pursue a career as a biological scientist, geneticist, biological anthropologist, or working in forensics — DNA is an essential part of study at William Woods.

Since 2005, National Geographic has been using DNA testing in its Genographic Project. This ongoing research initiative, led by a team of world-renowned scientists, uses cutting-edge genetic and computational tools to gather DNA from hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and analyzes historical patterns in DNA to help us understand our shared genetic roots.

This is done through a DNA kit used to collect saliva samples from participants to examine their ancestral make up. Not only can this give us clarity on our lineage but it paints a picture of the interconnectivity of humankind.

More than simply tracing your family tree, DNA testing is also used to trace diseases back to their origin and for further insight into the how and why the disease spread. For example, scientists recently discovered the oldest complete set of smallpox genes after taking a viral DNA sample from the skin of a mummified young child in a crypt below a church in Lithuania.

Scientists compared smallpox DNA from this child who lived around 1665 to more recent DNA from smallpox strains collected between the 1940s and 1970s. Though more DNA samples are needed to draw many conclusions, scientists now know that the same disease existed back in the 17th century and can use the data they’ve gathered as another piece in the puzzle of determining how smallpox has affected humanity.

DNA tests can also be used to protect native animals against invasive species. A recent NPR article discusses how scientists are using Environmental DNA — or eDNA — to protect certain species of fish, because fish and other mammals in the water leave behind DNA through shed skin cells, urine and feces.

“Just by taking a water sample, you can tell somewhere in basin above you, there was this range of species and something about their relative abundance,” said biologist Shaun Clements who has been using eDNA testing in rivers in Oregon.

This can make monitoring endangered fish, looking for invasive plants and checking in on other native species much easier and cheaper.

Bachelors in biology students at William Woods University can take courses like BIO231: Genetics. In this course, students study current developments and techniques in the study of inheritance including extensions and applications of transmission, population, and molecular genetics. Students will spend time in the lab examining Mendelian crosses of model organisms, computer simulations via software and Internet of traditional and population genetics, and cell-molecular genetics techniques including micropipetting, sterile bacterial culture, and visualization and mapping of DNA through gel electrophoresis.

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