Students Present Genomics, Bioinformatics Projects

Published July 22, 2019

Hundreds of students presented their work at a capstone event that was part of a project designed to expand opportunities for students from groups underrepresented in science and technology fields.

More than 200 high school students from 21 area schools presented projects on bioinformatics and genomics at the event.

Students Mentored in Health and Life Sciences

The program — the Western New York Genetics in Research and Health Care Partnership — is funded by a Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

The project is intended to serve as a pipeline for teacher and student recruitment and training and mentorship in bioscience, with a particular focus on basic bioinformatics research.

It supports career paths for students in the health professions and scientific research.

Jacobs Faculty Recruit High School Teachers

Faculty from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and the New York State Area Health Education Center System (NYS AHEC), a unit of the Department of Family Medicine, recruited high school teachers into the program. Then they trained them on learning techniques in bioinformatics during a summer workshop.

The teachers were trained on using GENI-ACT, the Genomics Education National Initiative – Annotation Collaboration Toolkit, a software tool that makes genome analysis accessible to educators and students. 

During spring 2019, the teachers worked with interested students to complete genome annotation activities.

Program Provides Hands-On Experience

The program provides students with opportunities to find, understand and critically evaluate research, as well as to learn how to access databases of information. 

During the capstone event, the students exhibited scientific posters that described their studies of online gene annotation.

Students said that participating in the program gave them hands-on experiences they wouldn’t otherwise have had.

“The program taught me a lot about genes and has opened my mind to consider a career/major in genetic engineering,” said one student.

“The Western New York Genetics in Research Partnership Program provided me with amazing information and ideas for future projects,’ commented another student.

One student emphasized that the program is both educational and fun: “The Western New York Genetics was a blast, and I would gladly recommend this program to any high school students partaking in STEM careers.”

Bioinformatics, Genomics Expert Gives Speech

Norma J. Nowak, PhD, professor of biochemistry, presented the event’s keynote address. She is executive director of UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and founder and CSO of Empire Genomics LLC.

Additionally, Shannon M. Carlin-Menter, PhD, director of evaluation for NYS AHEC and a research associate professor of family medicine, gave a brief welcome talk to the students at the event. She is co-principal investigator on the grant.

Rama Dey-Rao, PhD, clinical assistant professor of biotechnical and clinical laboratory sciences, also delivered remarks at the May 21 event.

Stephen T. Koury, PhD, research associate professor of biotechnical and clinical laboratory sciences — who is co-principal investigator on the NIH SEPA grant, which is award number 1R25GM129209 — presented an overview of the project and closing remarks.