Fed grant to bring genomics to Detroit, Flint schools

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Middle school students in Detroit and Flint soon will be learning about genomics, the study of human genes, and evolution, through a new program made possible with a $1.2 million federal grant.

Michigan State University researchers, with the University of Michigan and other partners, are using the grant from the National Institutes of Health to introduce the program in Detroit and Flint.

"This project builds on long-term relationships with Detroit and Flint organizations and the researchers," said Renee Bayer, associate director for engagement at the CREATE for STEM Institute at MSU.

She said an earlier, six-year project produced a high school curriculum addressing molecular genetics and genomics and included Detroit Public Schools, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit Public Library and Friends of Parkside.

Bayer said that project concluded high school students didn't have the background from middle school needed to master the curriculum.

Bayer said DPS will identify one teacher and school for the first year to pilot the curriculum. Over five years, DPS will identify other teachers in that school and/or add schools.

Alycia Meriweather, executive director of the DPS Office of Science, said it is critical for students to have exposure and experience with concepts such as genetics. "This is an exciting field with tangible impact in our daily lives because it also has the possibility of sparking long-term interest in STEM-related fields," she said. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

One example: Participants will learn how lactose intolerance develops in people and what privacy issues are considered for maintaining DNA samples from newborn blood screenings.

Toby Citrin, director of the Center for Public Health and Community Genomics at the UM School of Public Health, said the project could engage and excite students in Detroit and Flint.

"I hope that this project will help students from DPS and Flint Community Schools to gain a solid understanding of how genomics, the environment and principles of natural selection combine to affect their health," he said.