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National Science Foundation

Hartwick’s Cooper Receives Funding from the National Science Foundation

June 2, 2014

Hartwick College has been named as a recipient of a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the amount of $25,000 through a sub-agreement with North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. The funding will be used for a project called Development of a Build-a-Genome Network to Teach Synthetic Biology at Diverse Undergraduate Institutions

Assistant Professor of Biology at Hartwick College Dr. Eric Cooper is listed as a steering committee member on this project, alongside Drs. Robert Newman (North Carolina A&T State University), Lisa Scheifele (Loyola University Maryland), Jef Boeke (NYU Langone Medical Center), and Joel Bader (Johns Hopkins University).

The grant was awarded through the NSF's Research Coordination Networks Program under the Undergraduate Biology Education Incubator (RCN-UBE) track.  The funds will help the involved institutions develop and further explore different ways in which to teach synthetic biology at a wide range of institutions.

"Synthetic biology is an emerging field that integrates multiple scientific disciplines - including biology, mathematics, chemistry, and computer science - for assembling novel biological devices, or even entire genomes, with useful properties," said Cooper.  

In particular, the members of this project's Steering Committee would like to launch undergraduate "Build-a Genome" courses at their respective institutions. This course, which was conceived by Dr. Boeke while at Johns Hopkins University, provides a unique opportunity for undergraduates to participate in an actual, ongoing research project to construct the world's first synthetic eukaryotic genome, which may someday provide a "platform" for producing useful biomolecules. Along the way, students acquire basic molecular biology skills while performing and troubleshooting their own experiments, and taking ownership of their own projects. 

Implementing such a course at three very different kinds of schools, a large research-oriented university (North Carolina A & T State University), a mid-sized comprehensive university (Loyola University Maryland), and a small, liberal arts college (Hartwick College) presents various challenges. However, the grant will enable the committee to develop tools for integrating synthetic biology projects into molecular and cell biology courses at these very diverse types of institutions.

With the funding, the aforementioned committee members intend to organize a national workshop to introduce participants to the "Build-a-Genome" course, teach gene synthesis methods, and bring together individuals to develop plans for implementing similar courses at their own institutions. The committee also will host a series of smaller regional "Build-a-Genome" gene synthesis workshops, targeting faculty and students from regional colleges to promote synthetic biology and to make connections among local institutions for disseminating materials developed at the national workshop.

For additional information on the grant and/or the project, please contact Cooper at 607-431-4254 or at coopere@hartwick.edu

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Hartwick College is a private liberal arts and sciences college of 1,500 students, located in Oneonta, NY, in the northern foothills of the Catskill Mountains. Hartwick's expansive curriculum emphasizes an experiential approach to the liberal arts. Through personalized teaching, collaborative research, a distinctive January Term, a wide range of internships, and vast study-abroad opportunities, Hartwick ensures that students are prepared for not just their first jobs, but for the world ahead. A Three-Year Bachelor's Degree Program and strong financial aid and scholarship offerings keep a Hartwick education affordable.

Contact: Valerie Capullo
E-mail: capullov@hartwick.edu 
Phone: 607-431-4031