for June 20-21
By Stewart MacInnis
Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 32 - June 5, 1997
DNA studies of Egyptian Pharaohs, strides in using tumor-suppressor genes to treat cancer, and the ethical issues of human genetic mapping are among topics to be discussed at Virginia Tech's Biotechnology 2001 Conference June 20-21.
Sponsored by the Virginia Tech's Fralin Biotechnology Center, the National Association of Biology Teachers, and the university's Division of Continuing Education, the conference is expected to draw professionals and public-school and college educators from a 12-state region. It is designed to help high-school teachers and college faculty members to keep up to date on developments in the rapidly changing field.
The conference will be held at the Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center and at the Fralin Biotechnology Center.
Biotechnology encompasses a broad range of activities that use advanced genetic and biochemical techniques. Among its applications are producing human pharmaceuticals from plants and animals; improving animals, plants and micro-organisms for specific purposes; and making or modifying products.
Scott Woodward, a professor from Brigham Young University, will discuss DNA studies of Egyptian pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty. A microbiologist, Woodward has taken genetic samples from 27 high-profile royal mummies and 500 lesser-known mummies stored at Cairo's Egyptian Museum.
Scholars have been unable to construct a satisfactory genealogy of the pharaohs. Woodward hopes to establish relationships through examination of the DNA. His work may also indicate whether frequent intermarriage to preserve the purity of the royal bloodline may have introduced genetic diseases that led to its fall.
Esther Chang, of Georgetown University Medical Center, will discuss the use of the p53 tumor-suppressor gene in treating cancers. Damaged p53 genes are involved in 60 percent of all cancers. Chang's research effort focuses primarily on the molecular mechanisms of carciogenesis. Determining the roles of various genetic factors in the process of tumor formation is considered the key to improving the diagnosis and effective therapy of cancer.
John Quackenbush, of the Institute for Genomic Research in Rockville, Md., will make a presentation concerning the techniques used to develop a map of human genes. Knowing the location in a strand of DNA of genes that confer specific traits allows researchers to target their research. Quackenbush will also discuss the ethical issues raised by the Human Genome Project.
Roger Beachy, of the Scripps Research and Oceanographic Institute, will discuss the impact biotechnology is having on agriculture throughout the world. Betty Mansfield of Oak Ridge National Laboratories, will discuss the research being generated by the Human Genome Project.
Tracy Wilkins, director of the Fralin Center, will discuss the process of generating new products using research into transgenic plants and animals. Larry Pressley, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, will discuss quality assurance and DNA testing for criminal cases at the FBI's laboratory at Quantico.
Ilya Raskin of Rutgers University will discuss the development and use of genetically engineered plants for bioremediation of the environment. Joe Falkinham, a biology professor at Virginia Tech, will discuss his research using DNA fingerprinting to track down the sources of bacterial infections in AIDS patients.
Conference participants will attend 17 workshops to familiarize them with techniques and issues concerning new developments in biotechnology. They will also tour the Fralin Center, which contains research labs, teaching labs and other educational facilities.