New online genetics course allows college students to learn DNA Sequencing on a flexible schedule

A student, Tessa Faith Long, conducts lab work for the new online genetics course. (Sara...
A student, Tessa Faith Long, conducts lab work for the new online genetics course. (Sara Tewksbury/KTVF) (KTVF)
Published: Feb. 11, 2020 at 2:46 PM AKST
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College students have access to a new online course with the University of Alaska Fairbanks that allows them to conduct DNA sequencing at home.

Diana Wolf, associate professor at UAF says she has been teaching ‘Principles of Genetics’, a genetics class for biology majors, in person for a long time. She recently started teaching an online version of the course and wanted online students to be able to learn how to do lab sequencing as well.

Wolf says when she was prepping for the online course, she searched for other similar online genetics courses and most either had no lab component or used a virtual lab. “It meant that they used computer programs to pretend that they were doing lab techniques. They would push a button, and you move the hand to pick up a pipette, and you move your mouse to make it put things in tubes. In my conversations with eCampus, they convinced me that it would be much cooler if students could do it for real,” said Wolf.

Lab equipment can be large and expensive, so Wolf had to find a kit that was cheap enough and small enough to send to students to use at home. Wolf says the kits she found ended up being around $1,200, compared to about $10,000 for normal equipment in the lab.

In order to teach her students DNA sequencing, Wolf says she chose the project of looking into herbal supplements, and testing if those supplements have the ingredients they say they do. “We can find that out by sequencing the contents of the supplement, and then comparing those sequences to a database, and then comparing that with the ingredients list,” said Wolf.

One student, Tessa Faith Marie Long, who is taking the online class, says online courses work with her busy schedule a lot better. “It’s really nice because she tells us about how long the labs will take online, so I can just plan it into my day when I want to do it, and then I just set all my stuff up and do it,” said Long.

Long says she needs the course for her degree in biological sciences, and the online version was the most convenient.

Long says it is different from doing lab work in an actual lab setting because it is portable and she can do it when she wants. Long used to work in a lab, and she says having that previous experience helped her a lot with the lab portion of the class.

She has also done microbiology, physiology and anatomy classes online. “They actually shipped me a whole fetal pig and a sheep heart, and I think a pig’s kidney,” said Long.

Long says the most challenging part is having to set up the equipment every time she wants to do lab work. “It adds a little bit of time to the lab, but they’re not too bad. They’re pretty simple. [Wolf] has us do protocol quizzes before we start too. It’s helpful so you can already know what you’re doing before you jump into it,” said Long.

Wolf says after the students are done with their lab portion, they send the kit and prepared DNA back to her, and they put it on their sequencing machine to get the results.

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