Field Genomics course brings cutting-edge research techniques to UC Berkeley freshmen

Image students in the fieldWith recent advancements in portable, reliable, and low-cost scientific instruments, biological field research is flourishing. Now, a group of UC Berkeley undergraduates is newly equipped to investigate the natural world in real time with these new tools at their disposal.

From May 20-28, 2019, the Department of Integrative Biology’s inaugural Field Genomics summer course immersed first-year undergraduates in cutting-edge molecular biology techniques. The course provided thorough hands-on training in skills such as sample collection, nucleotide isolation, and portable nanopore DNA sequencing.

Students in classroomFor many of the undergraduates, Field Genomics was a comprehensive introduction to real-world scientific exploration in both field and laboratory settings. Prior to starting the program, many had little to no prior training in even using pipettes.

Group of happy students in a garden with nets“I had never had experience doing lab research so it was great to learn how to collect samples, extract and sequence DNA, and also learn how to use computer programs to interpret the data we gathered,” said intended MCB & Psychology major Tovah Popilsky. “Overall, I can see myself having an upper hand in the future since I’ve had experience with these things.”

In addition to their hands-on training, students toured a variety of research facilities and museums on campus and made meaningful connections with IB researchers. “I developed connections with graduate students and professors in IB who were interested in my success in research,” said intended MCB major Gabriel Baker.

The nine-day program was taught by an ensemble of four IB graduate students (Aaron Pomerantz, Kirsten Verster, Elisa Visher, and Ben Karin), IB Assistant Professor Peter Sudmant, and UC Botanical Gardens Director of Collections & Research Dr. Vanessa Handley.

“Integrative Biology has been the perfect community to kickstart this new fusion of field biology with portable genomics tools in an educational format,” said lead course instructor Aaron Pomerantz. “Truly anyone can learn and perform genomics experiments, and IB really is paving the way forward in training the next generation scientists here at Cal.”

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