New minor prepares students for high-tech careers
By Kim Colavito Markesich
The College of Agriculture and Natural Resources is offering a new minor in agricultural biotechnology. “This minor will significantly impact a student’s marketability in today’s competitive job market,” says Cameron Faustman, professor and the College's associate dean for academic programs. “It will provide students with an excellent educational foundation to fill a specialized niche within broader disciplines.”
Students minoring in agricultural biotechnology choose from courses in a variety of disciplines, including the departments of Allied Health Sciences, Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, Pathobiology and Veterinary Science, Animal Science, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Nutritional Sciences, and Allied Health Sciences’ diagnostic genetic sciences program.
“Placing molecular biology and biotechnology faculty from different departments in the new agricultural biotechnology facilities was conceived as a way of fostering cross-cutting research ideas and innovations,” says Susanne von Bodman a professor recently retired from the Department of Plant Science and Lanscape Architecture. “Each of these faculty members has a role in teaching courses in molecular biology and biotechnology to students in their individual departments. A group of us felt that we could coordinate our efforts and develop an educational program that would generate visibility for our combined biotechnology teaching efforts."
The minor includes several newly designed courses including Plant Gene Transfer Techniques, Techniques in Animal Biotechnology, and Diagnostic Techniques for the Biomedical Sciences, a course team taught by Allied Health Sciences and Pathobiology and Veterinary Science faculty. Of the latter, Denise Anamani, lecturer in the Department of Allied Health Sciences, says, “This is a laboratory-based course that offers theoretical bases and practical exposure to modern laboratory methods used in the biomedical sciences for disease diagnosis. In addition to lectures and lab work, students will explore various on-campus research facilities for exposure to biotechnology techniques at work.”
“All the departments involved have been very cooperative and quite excited about this endeavor,” says Anamani. “New teaching equipment and renovation of existing space to create a state-of-the-art teaching laboratory housed in the Agricultural Biotechnology complex will allow students to gain hands-on experience in some of these modern techniques.”
The new agricultural biotechnology minor offers an attractive enhancement of the undergraduate curriculum to students considering careers in various fields including science education, business and economics, law, agriculture, environmental sciences, health-related diciplines, and engineering, to name just a few.
Says von Bodman,
“The new minor expands the educational opportunities not only for students in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, but also for students in other UConn programs.”
And, says Guillermo Risatti, assistant professor of in the Department of Pathobiology and Veterinary Science, “Through the minor, new interactions that cross disciplines are being established and collaborations among faculty from different programs may be established.”
According to von Bodman, biotechnology can be broadly defined as “the use of living organisms or their products to enhance our lives and our environment.” She goes on to explain that modern biotechnology is based on our current understanding of DNA and genomes, which began with the 1953 discovery of the structure for DNA by Watson Crick and Rosalind Franklin. This discovery led to the collaborative effort in the 1970s by Cohen and Boyer to develop the first genetic engineering methodology.
In 1978, Boyer created the first successful biotechnology company, Genentech [http://www.gene.com/gene/index.jsp].
In 1978, Genentech announced the successful bacterial production of human insulin. Then in 1983, Genentech sold the license to make recombinant insulin to Eli Lilly and Company, which produced and marketed recombinant insulin under the trademark Humilin. Prior to that, insulin was extracted by laborious methods from animal pancreas.
While the minor in agricultural biotechnology will attract students interested in varied fields, particularly those related to medicine, biotechnology is also essential to expand the frontiers of our nation’s agricultural industries and improve the food supply.
“Sophisticated, high-achieving high school students with an interest in biology, seek these types of classes,” Faustman. “If we can show them an agricultural application, then we may end up attracting some of the best and brightest minds to our disciplines, where they can apply their interests in modern biology to improving food production.”
For an overview of the minor, visit the UConn catalog at: http://www.catalog.uconn.edu/minors.htm