Dr. Pilsner has developed three new interdisciplinary courses for the Department of Public Health’s undergraduate and graduate curriculum.

The DNA Experience

Hao Dinh
Hao Dinh wins the 2013 Undergraduate John Snow Memorial DNA Championship Award in The DNA Experience (PUBHLTH490PI).

Course description:  Genetics is an important component of public health, yet students do not have opportunities to apply genetic concepts outside of a traditional lecture-based classroom.  The DNA Experience integrates genetic concepts with hands-on experiments utilizing the 3P’s approach to science education:  problem posing, problem solving and peer persuasion.  After isolating their own DNA, students will perform laboratory analyses to understand 1) genetic variation in human populations through repetitive DNA inserts and 2) gene-environment interactions through genetic polymorphisms that predict bitter tasting.  Other activities include analyses to test for the presence or absence of genetically-modified (GM) foods, a forensics’ crime scene investigation module, and bioinformatics techniques to navigate the wealth of genetic data freely available on the internet.   Students will learn laboratory techniques such as DNA isolation, PCR, gel electrophoresis, use of restriction enzymes, and PCR primer design.  Through these activities, student will gain proficiency in genetic concepts such as the structure and function of DNA, population genetics, natural selection, SNP genotyping, and the ethics of genetic testing.

Environmental Epigenetics 
b) Commonwealth Honors College 391D

Course description:  You may have heard of genetics, but have you heard of epigenetics?  This dynamic new field has immensely increased our understanding of how the environment (nutrition, chemicals, psychosocial stress) can shape our genetic makeup.   Environmental epigenetics bridges the two opposing "nature/nurture" views and provides a platform by which external factors interact with our genes to influence development, health, and well-being.  In short, our DNA is NOT our destiny.  Through videos and discussions of recent research papers, this seminar will introduce students to environmental epigenetics.  Students will gain proficiency in evaluating and critiquing research papers and will be exposed to current environmental epigenetic research papers.

Molecular Epidemiology

Howie Wu
2013 Graduate John Snow Memorial DNA Championship Award recipient, Howie Wu, holding the double-helix trophy and a copy of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”. Howie won the award for extracting the highest concentration of DNA from buccal cells in a laboratory module for Molecular Epidemiology (PUBHLTH600).

Course description: The goals of this course are to introduce students to the basic methodological and design strategies commonly used in molecular epidemiology for environmental health research.   Students will learn how the exogenous environment can be captured as meaningful endogenous markers of exposure as well as how fixed (e.g., genetic) and modifiable (e.g.,nutrition) factors can be used to identify susceptible or at-risk populations.  Key concepts will include exposure assessment, biomarkers, gene-environmental interactions, windows of susceptibility, and the new emerging field of environmental epigenetics.   Study designs such as cross-sectional, case-control, placebo-controlled intervention studies, and retrospective designs for intergenerational studies will be discussed in the context of environmental studies.   Classes will consist of didactic lectures and discussions of current published literature on arsenic exposure to facilitate the understanding of key concepts.   To gain hands-on experience with molecular epidemiology techniques, a laboratory component will be offered.  Students will isolate their own DNA, perform PCR and restriction digest to genotype for selective genes, such as AS3MT and MTHFR.  Students will gain proficiency in critically evaluating molecular epidemiology research papers and will be exposed to basic molecular epidemiology laboratory methods.