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Michael Stoff, Director 305 East 23rd St, CLA 2.102, (G3600) Austin, TX 78712-1250 • 512-471-1442

Spring 2007

T C 357 • Molecular Biology, Problem Solving and Epidemiology

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
43395 W
1:00 PM-4:00 PM
SEA 2.116

Course Description

This course shows you how to combine molecular biology, problem solving, and epidemiology into creative and testable research ideas about diseases. The first two-thirds of the semester include lectures, class exercises, information gathering, and the generation of ideas. Lecture topics include how to use problem solving to get creative research ideas and how to think like a disease to get clues about causation. You will also learn to use research data bases such as PubMed, OMIM, and emedicine, as well as research tools such as gene cards, Human and Mouse Genome mapping sites, analytic programs such as BLAST and BIND, amino acid analysis, 3-Dimensional modeling, and others. The exact tools that we will cover will be determined in part by the ideas that we generate in the class project.

I intend this course to be interesting and fun. The goal is not for you to become an expert in any particular field, but rather to introduce you to methods that can guide your future study. This course is probably the only one of its kind in the country and should increase your attractiveness to medical schools and research oriented graduate programs.

About the Professor

Professor Lewis came to the University of Texas Psychology Department from Case Western Reserve University in 1978. Four years ago he was one of sixteen people in the world selected to attend the Yeast Genetics course at James Watson's Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor; three years ago he was one of twenty to win a fellowship to attend the Molecular Biology of Aging course in Woods Hole, funded by the Ellison Medical Foundation. He is currently conducting research looking at the causes of premature aging diseases.

Professor Lewis chief non-academic interest is travel. He has visited India on numerous occasions, journeying from the tip of the southern jungle to the northern-most mouth of the Ganges in the Himalayas. He has traveled by small boat to the Yanomamo Nation of the Venezuelan Amazon, spent time among the Piraoa, their more pacific neighbors, and visited the Pinhare, the great artisans of that jungle. He has climbed the cliffs of Kakadu in Australia, and been to the neighboring island of Tiwi. He has slept in the cloud forest of Costa Rica, driven by Land Rover across Tibet, and traveled by horseback through the mountains of the Krygyz Republic along the ancient silk trade route to the border of Outer Mongolia. He has visited Nepal, Thailand, Singapore and many small and wonderful places along the way.

Grading Policy

Throughout the semester we, as a class, will generate a broad-reaching and testable idea about the underlying mechanics of one or more diseases. Each week, we will follow-up on the ideas generated in class, either singly or in groups. The goal is to produce an idea worthy of being tested in a major laboratory. Last year's spring class, for example, used fingernail growth patterns to develop a theory about the kinetics of a progeria called Rothman-Thomson syndrome; in a subsequent independent study course, three members of the class wrote a journal article (J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2005 60: 10-20) describing our ideas. Several members of the fall class are developing an idea about the cause and treatment of a rare and fatal disease (Cronkhite-Canada Syndrome) that strikes housewives, old Japanese farmers, and a wide range of other groups. There is, however, no expectation that you will reach these, or any other, particular goals. The only expectation is that you will passionately pursue the goal of generating new ideas about diseases. Grades are based on weekly work toward the class project and on in-class contributions. 1. Various small assignmentse.g. Medical dictionary translation (using the online medical dictionary to translate difficult research literature)
2. Contribution to in-class ideas, follow-up on ideas during the week
3. Individual journal (the journal is an informal, written record of weekly findings, results, and insights)
4. Overall individual contribution to class, with creativity and willingness to take risks highly prized


Readings arise as we pursue ideas for the class project and ranges from popular overviews to original research literature. Additional readings involve manuals, websites, and instructions for using various databases and analytic programs (e.g. emedicine, OMIM, Human Genome).


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