Western, Forsyth Tech to offer summer biotech workshop for teachers

CULLOWHEE – The intensive five-day workshop is set for June 20-24, and it is open to 20 teachers who will learn gene sequencing fundamentals before moving on to hands-on practice. The June workshop will be held in Winston-Salem due to major renovations in the building that is home to Western’s science laboratories. It is patterned after last summer’s successful workshop held in Cullowhee that was led by Wes Bonds, an assistant professor of chemistry who is leading Western’s biotechnology efforts.

This year's workshop is patterned after last summer's workshop that was led by Wes Bonds (above at right), an assistant professor of chemistry at Western.

This year’s workshop is patterned after last summer’s workshop that was led by Wes Bonds (above at right), an assistant professor of chemistry at Western.

“We really like what we saw with last year’s workshop. Professor Bonds uses a very robust method of determining DNA sequence information that students as young as middle school age can use successfully,” said Bill Schy, education and training program manager for the N.C. Biotechnology Center. “He provides incredible follow-up to the teachers, offering to go to their schools to help the teachers become comfortable doing the DNA sequencing themselves. The center is very happy to support this type of biotechnology education workshop.”

During the workshop, teachers will learn to pour sequencing gels, run the sequencing reactions, create their own strands of DNA for sequencing, run their own gels and interpret the results, said Bonds, who will be leading the session along with Dwaine Davis, chair of the department of physical sciences at Forsyth Tech.

“We will look hard at how to fit the experiment into various classroom settings,” Bonds said. “They also will learn how to prepare samples for submission to DNA sequencing core facilities.”

Bonds, who spent 11 years working on the Human Genome Project at Yale University School of Medicine before joining the faculty at Western, travels frequently throughout North Carolina to lead high school students in sequencing a mutation of the human gene that has been linked to a predisposition to nicotine addiction.

The high school outreach activities by Bonds and the June 20-24 workshop are part of Western’s on-going efforts to encourage interested students to consider possible post-secondary study and careers in the emerging fields of biotechnology and bioinformatics, which many experts have called “the next wave” in the world of science.

“This workshop is going to be intensive,” Bonds said. “We will work day and night. But what fun it is going to be. Just think of the opportunities these teachers are going to put into the hands of their students when they can teach them to take an unknown strand of DNA and determine its code. There are literally billions of unsequenced genes out there for kids to discover.”

For more information about biotechnology activities at Western Carolina University, contact Wes Bonds at (828) 227-3681. Teachers interested in registering for the workshop in Winston-Salem or any of the N.C. Biotechnology Center’s summer programs should click on the Web at www.ncbiotech.org/summerworkshops/ (link no longer active).