This month marks the first year that students at Furman University can take the “Oceans and Human Health” (OHH) course at BIOS for their May Experience, an optional three-week term following commencement that allows students to participate in unique academic experiences, including shorter study abroad courses and instruction in research methods. Coordinated by BIOS’s Dr. Andrea Bodnar, the course is offered through the International Center for Ocean and Human Health at BIOS, which was established in 1998 to encourage interdisciplinary research among the ocean and medical sciences.
Joseph Pollard, Furman University’s Rose J. Forgione Professor of Biology, explains that, “Furman University has strong programs preparing students for careers in medicine or public health, including most of the students enrolled in this course. We developed the program concept, in collaboration with BIOS faculty, in order to encourage such students to recognize the many connections between medicine and the environment, specifically marine environments. It’s great for students to get first-hand knowledge of current research in oceans and human health, working with the BIOS faculty and facilities that are making so much progress in these areas.”
The 13 students that participated in this year’s OHH course were introduced to a variety of topics, each highlighting a different aspect of the major risks and benefits associated with our interactions with the ocean. Lecture themes included: marine natural products, marine biotechnology and bioengineering, international environmental policy, pollution and toxicology, and technologies used to assess risk and realize potential benefits.
“The staff at BIOS have been incredibly helpful and encouraging. Coming to an institute like this can be very intimidating and somewhat discouraging. But Dr. Andrea Bodnar and Dr. Andrew Peters have been especially reassuring and have encouraged all of us as we dive in to a new field of science. I can’t thank BIOS enough for hosting our group and allowing us to use the facilities here,” enthused Kera Belcher, a rising junior at Furman.
The OHH course balances lectures and case studies with active field work and laboratory practicals, offering students the opportunity to further investigate the lecture topics and acquire skills in microscopy, toxicology, spectroscopy, and molecular diagnostic techniques, such as membrane filtration, polymerase chain reaction (PCR), fluorescence microscopy, and small-scale extract preparation.
Eli Hestermann, Furman University’s Henry Keith and Ellen Hard Townes Associate Professor of Biology, finds himself telling colleagues that, “The Oceans and Human Health course as a whole is making explicit the many connections between the marine environment and humans, both for good and ill. This is especially apparent in the hands-on activities, where samples from the sea and its benthos are brought back to the lab to measure their effects on biological systems.”