Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Research News
- New crystal structures reveal a mysterious mechanism of gene regulation by the "magic spot"
- 22 February 2018 — Using an innovative crystallization technique, an international team of researchers, led by scientists at Penn State, has revealed new insights into the long debated action of the “magic spot”—a molecule that controls gene expression in Eschericahia coli and other bacteria when the bacteria are stressed.
- New neuron-like cells allow investigation into synthesis of vital cellular components
- 22 January 2018 — Using a new method to create synthetic neurons, a team of researchers from Penn State explores how the human brain makes a metabolic building block essential for the survival of all living organisms. The team describes a core enzyme involved in the synthesis of these building blocks, called purines, and how the enzyme might change during infection by herpes simplex virus.
- Researchers map druggable genomic targets in evolving malaria parasite
- 11 January 2018 — Researchers have used whole genome analyses and chemogenetics to identify new drug targets and resistance genes in the parasite the causes malaria.
- Have RNA, will travel: Malaria parasite packs genetic material in preparation for trip from mosquitoes to humans
- 10 January 2018 — The parasite that causes malaria has not one, but two, specialized proteins that protect its genetic material until the parasite takes up residence in a new host.
- New research agenda for malaria elimination and eradication
- 08 January 2018 — Manuel Llinás, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, and Jason Rasgon, professor of entomology and disease epidemiology, have participated in the formulation of an updated research agenda for global malaria elimination and eradication.
- Flies' disease-carrying potential may be greater than thought, researchers say
- 28 November 2017 — A new study adds further proof to the suspicion that houseflies and blowflies carry and spread a variety of species of bacteria that are harmful to humans.
- Survival of the least-fit: antiviral drug selectively targets the nastiest viruses
- 08 November 2017 — An antiviral drug that inhibits a virus' replication machinery selectively targets the most-aggressive viruses, according to new research that looked at the infection of individual cells by a virus and the consequence of antiviral intervention.
- Cryo-electron microscope to bring life sciences and materials sciences together
- 06 November 2017 — A new cryo-electron microscope, cryo-EM, that is also a spectrometer will bring life science methods together with materials science practices together to improve both fields and share methods across disciplines.
- Identifying the mechanism for a new class of antiviral drugs could hasten their approval
- 24 October 2017 — New research shows that a new class of antiviral drugs works by causing the virus’ replication machinery to pause and backtrack, preventing the virus from efficiently replicating.
- Exploring how herpes simplex virus changes when passed between family members
- 20 October 2017 — A new study explores how herpes simplex virus might change when passed from one individual to another, information that may prove useful in future development of therapeutics and vaccines.
- Renewable resource: sulfur is used, replenished to produce lipoic acid
- 19 October 2017 — New research shows how a protein is consumed and then reconstituted during the production of lipoic acid, a compound required by our bodies to convert energy from food into a form that can be used by our cells.
- New statistical method for evaluating reproducibility in studies of genome organization
- 03 October 2017 — A new, statistical method to evaluate the reproducibility of data from Hi-C -- a cutting-edge tool for studying how the genome works in three dimensions inside of a cell -- will help ensure that the data in these “big data” studies is reliable.
- $4.92M gift to Penn State for new industrial biotechnology center
- 19 September 2017 — CSL Behring, a global specialty biotherapeutics leader, has committed $4.92 million to Penn State over the next six years to create the multidisciplinary Center of Excellence in Biotechnology, and to revitalize the Shared Fermentation Facility, an engine for collaboration and innovation in biological training and research on the University Park campus.
- Out through the window: Crystal structure reveals details of nonstandard RNA transcription
- 21 August 2017 — High-resolution crystal structure reveals a new pathway for RNA during a nontraditional form of transcription.
- New, more sensitive sensor for evaluating drug safety
- 03 August 2017 — A new technique for evaluating drug safety can detect stress on cells at earlier stages than conventional methods, which mostly rely on detecting cell death. The new method uses a fluorescent sensor that is turned on in a cell when misfolded proteins begin to aggregate -- an early sign of cellular stress.
- Malaria parasites sense and adapt to their host’s nutritional status
- 05 July 2017 — A new study shows that the infectious agent responsible for malaria, the Plasmodium parasite, is able to sense its host’s nutritional status and actively adapt through changes in gene expression to reduce the number of offspring it produces.
- Genes, Ozone, and Autism: Increased risk for autism when genetic variation and air pollution meet
- 22 June 2017 — A new analysis shows that individuals with high levels of genetic variation and elevated exposure to ozone in the environment are at an even higher risk for developing autism than would be expected by adding the two risk factors together.
- Potential new target for antimalarial drugs identified
- 14 June 2017 — A newly described protein could be an effective target for combatting drug-resistant malaria parasites. The protein, the transcription factor PfAP2-I, regulates a number of genes involved with the parasite’s invasion of red blood cells, a critical part of the parasite’s complex life cycle that could be targeted by new antimalarial drugs
- Penn State DNA ladders: inexpensive molecular rulers for DNA research
- 26 May 2017 — New, license-free DNA ladders will allow researchers to estimate the size of fragments of DNA for a fraction of the cost of currently available methods.
- Penn State and Geisinger team up in new program to train next generation of biomedical scientists
- 27 April 2017 — A new $2.4-million program for graduate students seeking to contribute to breakthrough discoveries in medicine and biology has been established at Penn State University. The new Biomedical Big Data to Knowledge Training Program (B2D2K) brings together researchers at Penn State and the Geisinger Genomic Medicine Institute to accelerate advances in the biomedical and life sciences.
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A course designed for undergraduate biochemistry students to learn about cultural diversity issues
Marilee Benore-ParsonsCorresponding author
- Department of Natural Sciences, University of Michigan at Dearborn, Dearborn, Michigan 48128
- Dept. of Natural Sciences, University of Michigan at Dearborn, 4901 Evergreen Rd., Dearborn, MI 48128
Biology, biochemistry, and other science students are well trained in science and familiar with how to conduct and evaluate scientific experiments. They are less aware of cultural issues or how these will impact their careers in research, education, or as professional health care workers. A course was developed for advanced undergraduate science majors to learn about diversity issues in a context that would be relevant to them, entitled “Diversity Issues in Health Care: Treatment and Research.” Learning objectives included: developing awareness of current topics concerning diversity issues in health care; learning how research is carried out in health care, including pharmaceutical research, clinical trials, and social research; and learning about health care practices. Lectures and projects included readings on laboratory and clinical research, as well as literature on legal, race, gender, language, age, and income issues in health care research and clinical practice. Exams, papers, and a service learning project were used to determine the final course grade. Assessment indicated student understanding of diversity issues was improved, and the material was relevant.
Biochemistry and biology majors graduate with the knowledge and skills necessary to begin careers in research or enter into fields such as health care. However, they know very little about, and have less appreciation of how, the diversity of the human population will impact their work. This is in large part due to the highly structured and difficult coursework they must take to complete their undergraduate education. There is often not time for science students to consider classes such as gender or cultural diversity unless they are required. Currently, cultural diversity is rarely a topic in biochemistry and chemistry courses, although species diversity is a fundamental part of a biology curriculum.
The term “diversity” is usually considered part of a mechanism to train and recruit minorities to generate a diverse workforce. (Unfortunately, for some, diversity has developed a negative connotation as administrative and political mandates require efforts deemed as annoying, unnecessary, and unfair.) Those issues, although important, are not the basis for this course, which has a different aim. This course is designed so that students understand the broad ramifications as well as potential limitations of their work . Diversity training is already required in many professional fields, such as medicine, and in volunteer positions, such as scout leadership, so it is important to also incorporate it into undergraduate education .
There are several reasons students should learn more about cultural diversity. Our students will be better citizens if they understand these issues and how they will impact their lives, work, and research. An appreciation of how research is performed in other areas such as social science is necessary for science students to be able to communicate and work effectively with other researchers, as indicated in the document Bio2010 . Students must be prepared to enter the workforce and be able to succeed in an interdisciplinary teamwork approach. Laboratory, clinical, and managerial positions will all require an understanding of how to work in a diverse workplace. Finally, many research grants require considerations about gender, race, and age .
A course on diversity issues was developed so that biochemistry students could learn about cultural diversity in a course that was relevant to their major and simultaneously reinforce their biochemical knowledge by placing it in a case-oriented context. Topics included gender, age, race, culture, income, and religion. We did not spend time discussing the philosophical arguments of defining the various categories but focused on how differences and inequities impacted scientific research and health care.
The following section was used to support the rationale for a course that met the university's requirement for a three-credit diversity course that could also be used as a general upper division science requirement. To satisfy both diversity and science stipulations, specific goals were included in the rationale. Prerequisites required that students be juniors or seniors and have completed the introductory biology courses for science majors .
INFORMATION REQUIRED FOR COURSE APPROVAL
This course addresses the effect of race, age, gender, religion, and economic status on medical research and health care. Students will learn how medical research is performed in the United States and what health care treatments and options for patients are available. Medical treatment and disease topics will be selected and will be evaluated as to how they are influenced by the criteria listed. The examples will focus on both cultural differences and inequity, in national and global settings.
This course will allow students to examine issues in diversity on a topic that is of particular interest to them: health care. Diversity issues are an important part of medical research and training and are currently a primary focus of the American Medical Association and scientific research societies. The focus will be on both cultural diversity and inequity and will examine national and global issues.
The students need to learn how research is done and how treatments are developed within the scientific and legal community. They will learn that the research design is not easy as many cultural and other differences arise that are not immediately obvious. They will also learn about bias and inequity in the research, such as when certain groups are deliberately ignored by study groups or excluded for scientific or safety reasons. Students will evaluate for themselves whether cultural differences or inequities compromise patient care or whether cultural statutes affect medical diagnosis and prescribed treatment.
Students will examine the literature of clinical trials and case studies. Statistical analyses will be used to help evaluate whether cultural differences or inequity compromises patient care or whether cultural statutes affect medical diagnosis and prescribed treatment.
Learning Methods and Objectives for Achieving Them—
The overall course goal is to raise awareness of cultural differences, as well as issues concerning inequity and bias, in research, diagnosis, and treatment in health care. Although the focus will be national, issues of cultural diversity will require examining the history of cultural practices in health care, lending a global perspective. Students will be taught theory of research design and medical practice, examples will be discussed, and individual projects will be assigned for research and critical evaluation.
At the end of the course, students should be able to demonstrate:
Knowledge of the process of medical research, epidemiological studies, and drug development.
An understanding of how medical treatment options are chosen by physicians and presented to patients.
An ability to critically evaluate research and treatment choices and to be able to identify inequity due to gender, age, religion, race, economic status, or cultural differences.
COURSE TOPICS AND FORMAT
No text was available, and internet searches revealed that there were few courses coupling biochemistry and cultural diversity, although similar courses existed in nursing programs. Discussions with physicians, social workers, clinical researchers, and faculty teaching cultural and gender courses and others, as well as internet research on courses in diversity in health care and personal experience teaching gender and health, formed the basis for topic selection.
A variety of web sites, reviews, research articles, and case studies were utilized in lieu of a text. The aim was to learn about the diversity topics combining reading and lectures on science and clinical research, with extensive time to understand and discuss the impact of the topics on research and health care.
Lecture topics required extensive introduction to the material. The science of the health issue was presented in lecture format, and relevant web sites and/or articles were assigned for reading and discussion. The level of topics presumed that students understood biochemistry at an undergraduate level, and lectures introducing topics used resources taken from undergraduate and graduate texts in biochemistry and biology as well as medical texts. (See Tables I and II for detailed topic examples.) After the science was understood, the health issues, treatment, and research were discussed. Assignments included short essays, group discussions, assigned interviews and data collection, and class presentations.
Group discussion is an important part of this course. To facilitate discussions, students were often assigned, in teams, to present parts of lectures or to be team leaders. In many instances, the expertise of students was drawn upon to facilitate discussion. For example, students with more coursework in psychology and statistics were able to explain the significance of certain studies or to discuss typical treatments for psychological disorders. Students who worked in pharmacies had input about drug costs and patient needs related to the new prescription drug law.
Following are the types of topics covered, with some web site links and references to a few of the research papers used. (Some of the topics were in response to student's interests and their personal and family experiences.)
Introduction to healthcare equity terminology .
Discussion and comparison of laboratory and clinical research.
How to develop drugs for a specific disease or illness, carry out clinical trials, and bring the therapy to market [7–9].
The impact of the Human Genome Project, single nucleotide polymorphisms, and genetic diseases on pharmacogenomics and health care research and treatment [10–12].
The Women's Health Initiative. This ongoing and huge study, begun 15 years ago, was an excellent resource to examine cutting edge issues in how health care, laboratory, and clinical and social research mesh .
Other government research and trials to study disease and infection in women .
African-American men and myths about lung cancer therapy .
Legal issues about the rights of consumers and the obligations of health care providers with respect to linguistic and cultural competence [16–18].
NIH11 research requirements for diversity in laboratory and clinical research .
Prisoners/inmates (the only group guaranteed medical coverage by the federal government through the 8th amendment) .
Ethnogeriatric studies .
Prescription drug laws.
Women's Health Initiative .
Race, Ethnicity, and Culture
Diabetes and statistics related to various American minority groups.
NIH-Pima Indian project .
Genes impacting disease susceptibility and predisposition (mental illness, AIDs, diabetes).
AIDS/HIV in a global setting .
The Oregon Health Plan .
Social services and mental health care options for citizens living in poverty.
Myths and Alternative Therapies
Research papers on myths and how they interfere with and limit care .
Alternative therapy and non-Western treatments.
A deaf science faculty member described the ordeals and successes he had as a deaf individual in the community, in schools, and in scientific research and professional interactions in the workplace.
A social worker addressed the impact of poverty on social and psychological care and treatment and presented case studies.
An M.D./Ph.D. researcher discussed research on the leptin receptor and its impact on obesity and health.
A visiting scholar from Africa discussed the social implications of HIV, particularly the impact on young women, in Africa.
As expected, many issues span several areas in diversity. For example, the AIDS epidemic can be evaluated by race, gender, age and poverty, social behavior and responsibility, and myths and legal issues, in both global and national settings (Table I). The laboratory and clinical research, drug development, and treatment and educational dissemination can all be discussed. Students were required to “design” a drug target and propose a mechanism to study effectiveness based on their understanding of how the virus gained cell entry and replicated. Financial resources, including private and government funds, and limitations on aid as determined by political issues such as abortion and AIDS were included. (Interestingly, this was one of the areas in which students were divided, with many students believing that care should be determined by the way the disease was contracted, with risky lifestyle choices negatively viewed and those patients deemed as less deserving of support.) Each student was assigned a country to research and had to make an information sheet about the incidence of AIDs in that country, including a map and other vital information about politics and treatment; these mini-posters were all discussed in class and assembled in a collage for public display.
Similar topics were explored studying other diseases, such as diabetes. Students learned about metabolic processes, including glucose regulation, and the role of insulin and glucagon through lectures and reading review articles. Student teams were assigned American minority groups to study, including Asian/Pacific Americans, African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native American Indians. They studied genetic predisposition as well as the cultural issues that caused increases in the disease. In studying Alzheimer disease, students read OMIM articles that connected possible genetic linkages with the disease. Each student was assigned a drug in clinical trial and had to present to the class the drug, the category, and the mechanism of action (if known).
It was apparent that many students were unaware of what prejudice and racism meant, and many perceived themselves as being “victims” of affirmative action. We used the exercise developed by Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” to explore privilege and racism , using this understanding to move into discussions about what situations might lead to inequity in health care.
ASSESSMENT OF STUDENT PERFORMANCE
Students in this course were all undergraduates, with declared majors in biochemistry, biology, chemistry, and social sciences. Career goals included medicine and other health care professions, research, and social work. Grades were determined by exams, assignments, class discussion, a service learning project, and a research paper. Homework assignments were assigned and collected, and students were required to participate in class and bring in relevant news articles to post and share.
The service learning project (worth 10% of the grade) was a semester-long project. The project had to be related to the course goals and had to be something “new,” not a current volunteer project in which the student was already participating. Oral progress reports were presented mid-semester, and a final written report was turned in the last week. Some students chose and carried out excellent projects, whereas others did perfunctory work (such as make copies of handouts for clinics). Good examples included:
Organizing a seminar for college students on the cardiovascular health of young adults.
Flyers and educational literature written by the student and distributed to the community. Topics included the dangers of tanning, proper diet and nutrition, the hazards of accutane, the dangers of smoking the arghila (hookah), and the prescription drug program.
Fund-raising and developing educational awareness information for shelters and for cancer prevention and patient support.
Becoming a translator for the deaf and Arabic-speaking patients in emergency rooms.
Scientific updates and references added to Wikipedia. (en.wikipedia.org/)
A 10-page research paper on a topic related to diversity was written over the course of the semester. Deadlines included choosing a topic (first month), a full annotated literature search (second month), a rough draft (third month), and the final paper due (with all reference papers collated in a binder) the last week of the course.
Exams were primarily essay. Questions combined scientific information and social issues. One question was designed to determine student ability to read and interpret science policy essays; an article by Lewis Thomas on ethics and science and health care was selected, and students were graded using a rubric .
OUTCOMES AND STUDENT ASSESSMENT
Overall, the course was successful in meeting its objectives. Students reported better awareness of health issues and understanding of clinical and social research and how they impact health care and research. Students learned about the “big picture” of clinical research, as well as how other issues (gender, age, scientific myths, legal issues, and poverty) will impact their research and health practices. In some cases, the information was stunning to them, as revelations about our health care systems and patients' use and response to systems was explored. The emotional influence of patient attitude, family intervention, legal ramifications, and communication issues was surprising to many students.
A number of challenges had to be overcome as shown below.
Students did not understand the terminology used in social science papers and research.
Students did not believe (initially) that social and clinical research is as valid as laboratory research.
Students were shocked and dismayed by the potential barriers to proper health care.
Students had a difficult time outlining the major steps necessary to address major health issues.
This last issue is not inconsistent with the difficulty observed in science classes, when students are required to propose research plans. They had a difficult time understanding how to go about evaluating and coordinating the scientific, social, behavioral, and research issues necessary to make changes. For example, in a group exercise, teams were asked to determine what steps were necessary for treating a major health care issue such smoking or obesity. Students had to understand the health problem, cause of the disease, and social and medical factors influencing the issues, and once those were established, they had to outline a strategy that encompassed the medical and psychological treatment plans, consumer education, and basic (drug development) and clinical (evaluation of programs) necessary. This big picture problem was difficult for many to solve without extensive guidance.
Student assessment of the course was positive. In addition to the end of semester evaluations, a survey was sent to all students 18 months following the end of the course after the first course offering in 2003 to determine whether they still felt positive about their experience and to determine whether some of the course objectives were met. (A sample survey is shown in Table III.)
Many (nearly 50%) of the students returned the survey. On a scale of 1–5, with a 1 indicating strong agreement, the scores indicated that students found the material relevant (1.2) and would recommend it to other students (1.2) They reported that it integrated scientific principles and diversity topics (1.4), that the course changed the way they think about diversity and health care issues (1.3), and that it increased their awareness of diversity issues (1.4). They agreed that they would be able to use and apply the course material in their professional career (1.3). Comments indicated that discussions, speakers, women's health topics, and the process of drug discovery and development were interesting. The only negative comments included one from a student who did not like service learning and from a student who did not want to learn about the diseases, only treatments. Many listed topics that surprised them, of which they were previously unaware (women's health, prison rights, legal issues). One was grateful that in an undergraduate class, they were able to discuss science and politics, something that they rarely encounter as undergraduate students. Specific comments on course evaluations and survey included:
“This class has been one of my favorites … I think that it should be made a requirement for ”Pre-Med“ students … It was truly a great experience.”
“The class was indeed fun, entertaining, informative, and educational. I walked away with a much better understanding of my society, particularly healthcare … ”
RIGOR AND ADAPTABILITY
The University of Michigan-Dearborn campus initiated the diversity requirement in 2002, and thus students are just beginning to fulfill the requirement. Initially, the course drew about 20–25 students, and these students were not required to have the course but were simply interested in the topic. Similar numbers took the course in 2005, and the course is offered in alternate years due to faculty availability. Students entering as freshmen in 2003 would not have the required junior status until 2005 or 2006, so we expect to see an increase in student numbers. A large number of courses are options for the diversity requirement; however, this is the only science course. Students are allowed to use a diversity course toward their degree requirements; thus “double-dipping” is allowed.
The students enrolled in this course were typical of the science student population at UM-Dearborn. Although we have few Hispanic or African-American students, over half of our students are of Arabic descent as our metropolitan area is home to the largest Middle-Eastern population in the U.S. Therefore, nearly half the students were of Indian or Arabic descent, with many of these “first generation” or immigrants.
The course rigor for students at this level was determined to be appropriate for students with experience in upper division courses such as biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, or microbiology. Biochemistry majors are required to take upper level math or statistics, but not all students in the course were familiar with statistics. Lectures contained supplemental information as needed for students to understand and interpret research papers. As an example of the rigor, it should be noted that students used research databases such as the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) OMIM data base . For illustration, as part of the discussions on HIV and AIDS, we examined the history of the disease and polymorphisms in genes that are linked to reduced susceptibility to acquiring disease while we covered the details of viral entry via the host cell receptor CD4 protein.
Although this class is designated for upper division students, it is possible that similar courses could be developed for freshman seminar-type courses. If the level of rigor were lowered and more review articles were assigned, it could serve as an excellent introduction to health studies at the interface of social and science research. There are numerous government web sites that contain an abundance of information linked to social aspects and scientific research that could be used.
The course syllabus, UM-Dearborn course description, link to the UM-Dearborn diversity requirements, and other information can be obtained by writing to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or at a link from the author's home page at this web site: www-personal.umd.umich.edu/∼mparsons.
|Rate each of the following statements on a scale of 1–5, with 1 being in strong agreement and 5 being in strong disagreement.|
|Please answer the following questions.|
I thank Karole Kuslack, Creigh Milford, and Christopher Maksimovski for literature research used to develop case studies.
The abbreviations used are: NIH, National Institutes of Health; OMIM, Online Mendelian Inheritance in Man; HIV, human immunodeficiency virus; UM, University of Michigan.
Format AvailableFull text: HTML | PDF
Copyright © 2006 International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Inc.
- Issue online:
- Version of record online:
- Manuscript Revised:
- Manuscript Received:
- Office of the Dean, College of Arts Sciences and Letters, University of Michigan at Dearborn
- ASBMB National Meeting in San Diego
- Cultural diversity;
- health care;
- interdisciplinary course
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