Biology Class Describes New Genetic Contributor to Breast Cancer

Posted on July 20, 2017 by

Biology Class Describes New Genetic Contributor to Breast Cancer:
18 Biology Undergrads and Grad Students Coauthor Article in Highly Renowned Journal

In a clear demonstration of the potential of incorporating undergraduate training into cutting edge research, 10 undergraduates (along with 10 graduate students and 4 professors) recently carried out an innovative project resulting in the identification of an entirely novel type of gene contributing to breast cancer invasion. SdRNAs are a new type of regulatory gene only recently described. The paper published by these authors in the highly prestigious research journal Nature NPJ Breast Cancer on July 10, 2017 represents the first ever demonstration that sdRNAs directly contribute to breast cancer invasiveness.

Dillon G. Patterson, Justin T. Roberts, Valeria M. King, Dominika Houserova, Emmaline C. Barnhill, Aline Crucello, Caroline J. Polska, Alex Coley, Melody Zeidan, Lucas W. Brantley, Garrett C. Kaufman, Michael Nguyen, Megann W. Santana, Ian A. Schiller, Julius S. Spicciani, Anastasia K. Zapata, Molly M. Miller, Timothy D. Sherman, Ruixia Ma, Hongyou Zhao, Ritu Arora, Ming Tan,, Yaguang Xi, and Glen M. Borchert. Human snoRNA-93 is processed into a microRNA-like RNA that promotes breast cancer cell invasion. Nature NPJ Breast Cancer. 3:25 (2017). doi:10.1038/s41523-017-0032-8. Published online 10 July 2017.


Of note, this project originally began as a collaborative class project developed as a part of an active learning computational genetics class offered by Dr. Borchert (Bly445). The success of this “informatics for non-programmers” course has been particularly striking. Utilizing a project-based learning strategy, this computational genomics course equips students with a novel informatics toolset and teaches them how to work both independently and in small groups in order to complete a class-wide research analysis. Remarkably, in its first few semesters, this course has now generated 73 undergraduate authorships in peer-reviewed journals.

In summary, the collaborative effort represented by this work is significant for two principle reasons: (1) The scientific findings described by this analysis are innovative and exciting and have wide reaching implications for cancer biology. And (2) this work demonstrates the largely untapped value of actively integrating undergraduate education into legitimate research efforts.

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