Genetics in the Environment

Why do some organisms that are normally benign in their native range suddenly become noxious pests or do direct harm to humans when introduced into a new environment? How can we know where these invasions might spread? We will explore how scientists use approaches from diverse biological disciplines (genetics, ecology, evolutionary biology, physiology) to study biological invasions. This course provides a timely opportunity for students to examine the origins and consequences of invasions in biology, while gaining first-hand experience with how scientists ask and answer questions through both observation and experimentation.

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  • Coursework Overview

    The coursework for this Endeavor community involves taking a one-unit course in the fall semester and a half-unit course in the spring semester, both taught by Dr. Wu.

    Fall 2022 Semester Spring 2023 Semester
    BIOL 199: Invasions in Biology with Lab (1 unit) IDST 190: Genetics in the Environment Seminar (.5 unit)

    BIOL 199 is intended for Biology and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology majors. This course also fulfills the Environmental Studies environmental life science requirement. In addition, though not specifically intended as such, the course satisfies a general education requirement for natural science.

    IDST 190 is a half-unit project based course part of the Endeavor program.

  • Specific Course Information

    BIOL 199: Invasions in Biology with Lab

    In this class we will explore biology through the prism of invasions. We will examine how macroscopic and microscopic organisms invade new niches, the genetic and physiological factors that influence their success, and their impacts on new territory. We will develop research projects to explore the population dynamics, spatial distributions, and mechanisms of invasions, in part based on a field trip to areas managed by Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (VADCR) and the James River Park System. Special emphasis will be placed on some common invasions of concern here in Virginia. Through this framework, we will leverage unique opportunities provided by the lab portion of the course to explore and apply some of the many approaches that scientists use to examine invasions in biology, including phenotypic, genetic, microbiological, and spatial analyses.

    IDST 190: Genetics in the Environment Seminar

    The spring semester project will center on students using DNA barcoding to test for the accuracy of seafood in Richmond-area restaurants and markets. Concurrently, teams of students will examine potential sources in the seafood supply chain where mislabeling may occur, origins of species misidentification (deliberate or not), and implications for consumers, policy, and conservation. Finally, students will develop recommendations to address the global challenge of seafood misidentification. Students will present their work at the Arts & Sciences Student Symposium in the spring semester.

  • Faculty Information

    Dr. C. Wu
    Dr. Carrie Wu is Associate Professor of Biology and Coordinator of the Environmental Studies Program

  • Roadmap Short Course Information

    As part of the Endeavor program, you will participate in the popular Roadmap to Success pre-orientation program, where you will take a short course led by Dr. Wu.

    Short Course Description: Organisms out of Place

    Modern global trade and travel have led to the transport of animals, plants, and microbes beyond their native ranges, both intentionally and by accident. While many of these organisms do not survive in their new environments, those that do can have devastating biological and economic consequences if they become established. In this short course, we’ll explore how scientists are using a variety of approaches to understand why some introduced species become successful invaders. Students will also conduct a genetic study to help the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation determine whether local marsh grass populations have been invaded by a non-native species that is aggressively spreading throughout the Chesapeake Bay.