School Notebook

Grant Funds Genetics Education Program

Editor’s note: The Cummings Foundation, the charitable organization established by billionaire Medford native William Cummings, recently also awarded $100,000 each to Medford’s Royall House and the high school’s Center for Citizenship and Social Responsibility.

Tufts University’s popular Bioinformatics Inquiry through Sequencing (BioSeq) program will continue to teach local students about the possibilities of genetics work thanks to a $100,000 grant from Cummings Foundation.

BioSeq uses an interactive curriculum that emphasizes the value of genetics in personally relevant contexts, preparing students for research careers and enhancing understanding of how genetics work can shape and save lives.

The BioSeq program is part of Tufts and Cummings Foundation’s legacy of support for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education opportunities for students in greater Boston.

Started with funding from the National Institutes of Health Science Education Partnership Award and now in its fifth year, BioSeq has reached over 1,000 students in Medford, Somerville and Malden schools.

Until recently, genetic sequencing was labor-intensive, slow and expensive. Thanks to next-generation sequencing, however, scientists are employing new tools to gather genetic data and to draw meaningful conclusions on how the data can push the boundaries of medical knowledge and bring the promise of personalized medicine closer to reality. Despite these tremendous advances, this technology is largely out of the reach of the high school audience.

Due to cost and curriculum restraints, students in low-income and diverse urban communities often have limited opportunities to interact with genetics science, though within their lifetimes, current high school students will have to understand how their genetics may influence the treatments they receive and the drugs they are prescribed. The BioSeq program works to expose students to the possibilities of genetic sequencing so they will be more comfortable and better informed as genomics plays an increasingly influential role in health and medicine.

BioSeq engages and challenges students in their high school classrooms by focusing on inquiry-based experiments that relate to them directly. This grant will enable the program to continue to support classroom experiments – such as “The Microbiome Portrait Experiment” in which students analyze their own DNA – as well as local students and classes with their genomic science fair projects and will provide scholarships for the BioSeq summer program, run by Tufts Summer Studies.

“We’re very grateful for Cumming Foundation’s generosity and its continued commitment to both Tufts University and the goal of enhancing STEM education for young students from our local communities. Because of Cummings Foundation’s support, students will have opportunities to learn by asking and answering their own questions about genetics,” said Matthew Fierman, Ph.D., BioSeq’s program administrator.

Cummings Foundation, Inc., founded by Tufts alumnus and trustee emeritus Bill Cummings and his wife, Joyce Cummings, has awarded more than $170 million in grants to non-profit organizations serving a broad range of causes in greater Boston and around the world, including human services, education, health care, and social justice. Cummings Foundation is active internationally through aid to the post-genocide rebuilding of Rwanda and support of education to help prevent future genocides and other intercultural violence and injustice. The Cummings’ philanthropy has had a significant impact on the Tufts community in particular, including a naming gift in support of Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

For more information about the BioSeq program, including sample classroom activities, please visit: http://ase.tufts.edu/chemistry/walt/sepa/index.html

– Submitted by Tufts University

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