In-class Immersion of 'Big Data' Technologies to Improve Students' Understanding of Genomic Instability and Systems Biology

Ronit Yarden (Human Science), Jan LaRocque (Human Science), Yuriy Gusev (Innovation Center for Biomedical Informatics) · Round 4

In the past two years, since its inception, the Genome Instability and Human Disease course (HSCI-356/BIOL-374) has focused on the molecular mechanisms involved in maintenance of genome stability and response to DNA damage by providing background and historical perspective of the field as well as current developments. The three pillars of learning in the class include lectures by the professors on the causes and consequences of genome instability; student-led journal clubs; and a written literature review by students on a genomic instability topic.

In two of the three pillars, the students are directly involved in reading and critically analyzing scientific data; however, the scope is often limited to a single molecular pathway or a single disease. Thus, one of the significant thresholds in this course and other undergraduate molecular biology and genetics courses is the translation of coursework to real-life scientific discoveries and placing the data in the context of multiple biological processes and pathways, an emerging field called Systems Biology. Course inclusion of technology suited for Systems Biology research, which is built upon the continuous flow of publicly available genetic and genomic information ("Big Data"), will help to overcome these thresholds.

Therefore, this ITEL project, led by Principal Investigators Ronit Yarden, Jan LaRocque and Yuriy Gusev, aims to integrate the technologies available for Systems Biology research pertaining to molecular –omics data (i.e. transcriptomics, epigenomics, proteomics) in the Genome Instability and Human Disease course to enhance active learning and assist in addressing application of Systems Biology to the field of Genomic Instability. These technologies include Pathway Studio, an on-line systems biology platform that extracts biological knowledge from over 3 million peer reviewed publications and designed to assist in analysis of Big Data in biology. This analytical knowledge-base tool enables students to identify and generate biological networks and illuminate new physiological roles for genes and protein entities beyond their immediate context.

In addition, active and technology-based learning increases student enthusiasm and engagement as compared to more traditional, lecture-based approaches and will increase confidence and satisfaction. This project also seeks to increase faculty development and competencies in the field of Systems Biology. Furthermore, the project team expect that both professors and students will be motivated by the sense of inquiry facilitating original, publishable undergraduate research in and out of the classroom.

To learn more about the work done by these Principal Investigators, visit the links below:

The Human Science Department
The Innovation Center for Biomedical Informatics (ICBI) Department
Ronit Yarden's Personal Investigator site
Jan LaRocque's Personal Investigator site


Yarden, Ronit, Jan LaRocque, and Yuriy Gusev. "In-class Immersion of 'Big Data' Technologies to Improve Students' Understanding of Genomic Instability and Systems Biology." Presented at the 2015 Colloquium for Educators in the Health Professions at the Center for Innovation and Leadership in Education, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, June 2, 2015.