A recent workshop at Bluefield State College explored a pair of emerging, dynamic new technologies—bioinformatics and genomics—attracting an audience that included BSC students and faculty, as well as 40 Bluefield and Princeton High School students. BSC faculty members Dr. James Walters and Dr. Tesfaye Belay organized the Bioinformatics Workshop. The event included presentations to students from Dr. Walters and Marshall University’s faculty members Dr. Don Primerano and Dr. James Denvir.  Dr. Primerano and Dr. Denvir are Genomics Core Faculty co-Directors at Marshall’s Joan Edwards School of Medicine, and they are experts in the field of bioinformatics.

            “Technology has advanced to the point where we can efficiently sequence the human genome—the DNA that controls our bodies and how they run—then see the code, letter by letter,” explained Dr. Walters.  “This generates a mountain of data that can be invaluable in applications that include diagnosis and medical research.”

Bioinformatics, the collection, classification, storage, and analysis of biochemical and biological information using computers especially as applied to molecular genetics and genomics, provides a way to get a handle on this mountain of data, he added.

Biomedical and microbiology research currently being conducted by BSC faculty and students has grown significantly over the past decade.   Much of the BSC-based research receives funding and support from the WV-Idea Network for Biomedical Research Excellence (WV-INBRE).

“For the 40 students from Bluefield and Princeton High Schools (including ten students who are enrolled in the Health Sciences Technology Academy) and for students from BSC, this workshop brought an introduction to bioinformatics,” Dr. Belay added. 

Drs. Primerano and Denvir are part of WV-INBRE, which supported the visit to BSC.  They explained the process for sequencing genomic DNA, as well as how to make sense of the voluminous amount of data yielded thru sequencing.  “They also discussed skills and interest needed by students interested in pursuing careers in the field,” observed Dr. Walters, who also spoke during the workshop.  The information from the lectures will be used immediately in Dr. Walters’ research lab for two students’ senior projects.

In sessions limited to faculty and staff from BSC and guests from Concord University, Drs. Primerano and Denvir shared information about the WV-INBRE network for supporting biomedical advances and infrastructure.

“Bluefield State College has already established a pipeline connecting our Applied Sciences program and area high school students—those currently involved in HSTA and non-HSTA students who are interested in biomedical training,” Dr. Belay stated.  “We are committed to raising awareness of the research being done at BSC, communicating to high school students the opportunities at BSC the opportunities for careers in the field.”

Organizing and successfully having a workshop on BSC’s campus of course requires a great team which included BSC administrators Dr. JoAnn Robinson, Dr. Michael Smith, and staff members Joan Buchannan, Elizabeth Walters and Michelle Noe.  “We are also grateful to Ms. Yvonne Harris from Bluefield High School and Ms. Ashleigh Freeman from Princeton Sr. High School for coordinating the HSTA students’ visit,” Dr. Belay said.