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BPS students receive lesson in genomics

Students took part in several activities that promoted genomic and bioinformatics literacy. Photo: Julie Przywara

By JULIE MOLENDA

Published March 19, 2015

“We welcomed students to the world of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and taught them about the field of genomics and how the information encoded in their genomes will impact their health care across their lifetime.”
Norma Nowak, executive director
UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics & Life Sciences

The road to the human genome started in Buffalo, so it was fitting that more than 320 seventh- and eighth-graders from the Buffalo Public Schools (BPS) took part in Genome Day on Tuesday as part of Science Week.

After opening remarks at Roswell Park Cancer Institute (RPCI), the students moved to UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics & Life Sciences (CBLS), nearby on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, where graduate students and postdocs from UB and RPCI led them through a series of activities that promoted genomic and bioinformatics literacy.

Students extracted their DNA and took it home in a necklace using Bio-Rad Laboratories’ “Genes in a Bottle” kit, completed a karyotyping activity to identify a disease by observing chromosomal differences, created and took home an origami model designed to promote understanding of DNA structure, and identified genetic mutations by interpreting sequences from healthy and tumor cells.

“The goal was to inspire and encourage students about STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) career opportunities,” said Norma Nowak, executive director of CBLS. “On Genome Day, we welcomed students to the world of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and taught them about the field of genomics and how the information encoded in their genomes will impact their health care across their lifetime.”

Shawnn Smark, life science group marketing manager at Bio-Rad Laboratories, one of Science Week’s corporate partners, said Science Week offers students the valuable experience of gaining hands-on exposure to scientific methods and concepts in a way that is fun and interactive. “We understand that keeping kids interested in science as they progress through school is challenging, and we are proud to join the University at Buffalo and the Buffalo Public Schools in meeting that challenge.”

Guest speakers at Genome Day included Nowak, also a UB professor of biochemistry and biomedical informatics, and Alexander N. Cartwright, SUNY provost and executive vice chancellor, and UB professor of electrical engineering and biomedical engineering. Both scientists were instrumental in developing Genome Day. 

Also speaking were Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown, SUNY Trustee Eunice Lewin, UB Provost Charles E. Zukoski, BPS Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie, RPCI President and CEO Candace S. Johnson and Anthony Johnson, president and CEO of Empire Genomics.

“Genome Day was a terrific opportunity for UB and RPCI to engage Buffalo middle school students in creative, fun, academic experiences that introduced them to the power and possibilities of science,” said Cartwright. “Our goal was to show them that science is an important gateway to STEM opportunities in college and in their future careers.”

Genome Day was a partnership between the UB, SUNY Buffalo State, Erie Community College, SUNY and RPCI, and the city of Buffalo and BPS as part of STEM Experiences and the second annual Science Week.

Besides Bio-Rad Laboratories, corporate partners included Praxair, Thermo Fisher Scientific and EverFi, with additional support from the Buffalo Sabres, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo & Erie County Public Library, Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and Project Flight.