About the Project

About the Project

Why a podcast for a final project?

  Social media has been a tremendous force for scientific outreach. Websites like IFLS, podcasts like Science Collider and Radiolab and talk shows like Star Talk have done much more than creating a simple and effective avenue for science communication: they have ignited the public interest in science and even prompted the rise of “Community Labs.” While non-profit and private entities (WNYC, NPR, Dana Foundation) have led the expansion and democratization of scientific information, academia has lagged behind. Despite many outreach efforts, we are still not engaging the public enough about the true process of scientific discovery. Moreover, outreach efforts typically happen outside the undergraduate classroom. As I mused about how to structure my new class, I thought,  what about a podcast?  Supposedly podcasts are easy to make, awesome to listen to, and they reach many people. Plus, making a podcast series with the students would also mean incorporating outreach efforts into the classroom and teaching students to be both outstanding scholars and communicators. Clearly, a path that goes from “scientific oligarchy” to “scientific democracy” is not only beneficial, but also crucial for both Science and Society: engaging our young scholars with this process is a superb way to catalyze this transition. Enjoy!

Many thanks to our contributors

  There are a lot of good ideas, but without the proper infrastructure many would not see the light of day. This is certainly true in this case and it was only thanks to the amazing people at the University of Michigan that we were able to make and distribute these podcasts. The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching and Professor Laura Olsen consulted with me to make sure that the essays and podcasts would be structured with proper pedagogy. Then Elyse Aurbach, Katie Prater and Brandon Patterson, the fantastic coordinators of RELATE, a campus community organization that teaches science communication to students and faculty, gave a lecture on how to write and produce a science piece for the lay public. Finally, the amazing people at Instructional Support and Services made available a podcast studio and a lot of time for us to record our podcasts, plus they helped us setup this website: Shawn Jackson and Anthony King, you are the best, no really, thank you. Thank you also to Carlos Garcia from the GroundWorks Media Lab, who helped Sam record the amazing interview with David Sweatt. We also want to thank Liz Wason and the LSA Michigan News team like Laura Bailey and MCDB Suzanne Tainter for helping us spread the news about the podcast. Thanks to Alicia Speak, Brooke Baker, Caleb Vogt, and Sally Plank for building this website after graduation. Finally, a big thank goes to the awesome Dr. David Sweatt, Chair of the Department of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt, for letting us use his amazing new textbook Epigenetic Regulation in the Nervous System for free and for participating in the podcast. 

About Professor Dus

Monica Profile Photo BWI was born and raised in Italy, but moved to the US to attend college. I received a BS in Molecular Biology and a minor in Chemistry and Philosophy from the University of Redlands, CA Johnston Center for Integrative Learning. I received my PhD from the Watson School of Biological Sciences at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in NY, one of the top-ranked research institutes in the world. My graduate work with Dr. Gregory Hannon revolved around the role of small RNAs in controlling jumping genes, or transposons. I completed my postdoctoral training at the Skirball Institute for Biomolecular Medicine at the NYU School of Medicine studying how the brain senses nutrients and distinguishes between real and fake sugars. I am currently a faculty member at the University of Michigan, Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology where I head a research laboratory and teach MCDB421: Neuroepigenetics and BIO 305: Genetics.

My favorite things in life are Bichon Frise, dessert, epistemology, postmodern literature, pastel colors, and of course, teaching. Follow me on Twitter @Hardkandy000 and you can read about research in our lab here.

MCDB 421 Neuroepigenetics, from Environment to Genes to Behavior  

Have you ever wondered how life experiences are translated into changes in the DNA and how these in turn affect behavior? While genomes are hidden inside cells, they are also influenced by the “experience” of cells and organisms. These experiences, which come in the many forms, from diet to pollutants to stress, alter the chemical nature of the genome, and in turn, its function. This is particularly crucial in the brain, as its function is linked to behavior.

This class will cross the lines between neuroscience, molecular biology and epigenetics to uncover the effect of the environment and life experience on brain function and behavior. We will examine how genes determine complex behaviors, and analyze in depth how maternal care, stress, drugs of addiction and more contribute to brain function and dysfunction. This course involves critical reading and class discussion of recently published research articles in the field of neuroepigenetics. Assessment will include class interactions, quizzes and a final project where you will write an article and record a podcast for the public on one of the topics covered in class. This will be published for scientific outreach.

Learning Goals

  • Critically read the primary literature in this field and put it in the context of what you have learnt in other neuroscience and genetic classes.
  • Understand the basics of epigenetic processes in the brain and how they contribute to mental health and disease
  • Understand the technical approaches to study neuroepigenetics
  • Communicate new findings in this field to the public via social media and a website.