Human Microbiome curriculum development

This past month, the Alaska IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE) program put out a call for  curriculum proposals. INBRE is supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health. An objective of the Alaska INBRE Research Training Core is to expand curricula in biomedical and health areas across the University of Alaska system. I worked with Dr. Mary Beth Leigh on a proposal that was just funded. This summer we will be developing a new course to be offered at UAF in the near future. Below is a short description.

Overview: It is now widely recognized that humans are host to a diverse assemblage of microbes (Blaser 2014b). This associated microbiota impacts the behavior, physiology and fitness of their host. The goal is to develop a new course that will broadly explore the biology of host-associated microbiomes. In the process, we will address humans as hosts and include model and non-model systems as tools for research in this complex field. This course will cover research questions on the ecology and evolution of host-associated microbiomes. Additionally, we will explore research methods and tools used to collect and analyze microbiome data.

Relevance to biomedical research: Understanding the role of the human microbiome is an important missing component of current investigations of the human health, so much so that the NIH started the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) in 2007. The HMP developed tools and initial datasets during the initial phase. Now that phase two is wrapping up, we have access to integrated datasets of both microbial communities and host properties. There is growing evidence that human health and disease are significantly impacted by host-associated microbes. The human microbiome is linked to a vast array of health concerns including: asthma and allergies (Reibman et al. 2008), cancer (Marchesi et al. 2011), malnutrition and obesity (Tilg and Kaser 2011), and autism and depression (Mulle et al. 2013). Some even argue that changes in health practices may have exacerbated these effects (e.g. increasing use of antibiotics) (Blaser 2014a).

Evolution, Naturally Inspiring

This semester, some of my evolution students wrote blog posts over at Evolution, Naturally Inspiring on recent scientific research as an extra assignment. We know there is a need to communicate beyond our institutions. Making the science we do as public as we can is an important part of public outreach. What better way to help educate people about what we do then do show them the process too.

Assignment: Each student selected a paper from the primary literature. In addition to reading the primary source, I asked the students to delve into the broader context of the research. They drafted an initial post which I reviewed and made suggested. My suggested were to aid clarity, rather than provide editorial censoring. I really wanted each student’s voice to shine through the blog post. Student then submitted a revised version of the post for two peer reviews. The final product was a post around 1000-1500 words including some properly cited images.

Goal: To think and writing critically about recently published scientific research on evolution and present that research to a broader audience.

Link to PDF of full assignment

This semester we had a total of seven posts covering many topics in evolutionary biology. Hope you enjoy.