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Illinois IGB

Lifelong Learning Meets Life-Changing Research

June 22, 2015
By: Claudia Lutz.

How relevant are obscure-sounding topics such as cell division, genomics of plant breeding, and bioengineering for the daily lives of a group of local community members?

As a group of University of Illinois Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) members were excited to discover, quite a bit.  A course offered by OLLI this spring, “How Genomics is Changing Everything,” covered these topics and many others, with content that fulfilled the promise of its title and garnered overwhelmingly positive reviews from its participants. OLLI is member-driven learning community for people over the age of 50.


The course was organized by animal biologist Alison Bell, who designed the course and coordinated guest presentations by other University of Illinois faculty.  All of the course instructors are members of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology (IGB), where Bell is a member of the Gene Networks of Neural and Developmental Plasticity research theme.

“It is such a pleasure to have an opportunity to interact with students in the OLLI community,” Bell said.  “They are inquisitive and ask razor-sharp questions that kept all of the instructors on their toes.”

Instructors in the course deftly handled two interrelated topics: the impact of genomics on their research specialty, and how that area of research relates to society as a whole.  Participants praised both aspects of the course content in post-course feedback.  One called the course a “mind-bending view of a changing field,” while another stated that they most enjoyed “the varied areas genomics is involved in, [and] how it touches all our lives in myriad ways.”

The aims of the course are closely aligned with a central focus of the IGB’s outreach mission, to make knowledge of genomics more accessible and relatable to all members of the public.

“Genomics can be very technical, but also has wide-ranging implications for human health and society, so this course covered a lot of territory,” Bell said.

Topics covered in the course included the biological influences that shape animal and human behavior, the development of more resilient and productive food crops, regeneration of organs and tissues, and the genomics of cancer.  In addition to Bell, anthropologist Ripan Malhi, plant biologists Lisa Ainsworth (USDA ARS) and Andrew Leakey, animal biologist Karen Sears, cell and developmental biologists Lisa Stubbs and David Stocum, and bioengineer Jian Ma were instructors in the course.

June 22, 2015
By: Claudia Lutz.
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