Over the past decade, CRISPR genetic engineering tools have become an essential technology in numerous industries, including food and agriculture, drug development, and therapy, as well as for ongoing scientific research.
Yet, says Rock, Zhi-Yan Du of the Dept. of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering, these Clustered Regularly Intersced Short Palindromic Repeats systems are “not well understood in the general community, leading to fears and misunderstandings about genetic engineering and an overall anti-science outlook.”
Because it’s critical that Hawaiʻi’s current and future workforce be educated in these cutting-edge technologies – and because Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are disproportionately underrepresented in science and technology disciplines – Rock has initiated the first official CRISPR laboratory course at UHM and CRISPR workshops for baccalaureate and two-year postsecondary students of the UH system, including the other UH campuses and community colleges.
“This education project will address the educational disparities and Educational Need Area of Curriculum Development, Instructional Delivery Systems, and Expanding Student Career Opportunities,” he says. “The long-term goal of this project is to develop agricultural and science literacy in Hawaiʻi by building competencies in molecular biology, genetics, biotechnology, agricultural science, and science communication.”
To jumpstart the project, the USDAʻs National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded Rock a $149K grant. His grad students/TAs plan to conduct MBBE/BIOL 401Lab Molecular Biotechnology Lab-Gene Editing by CRISPR/Cas9 in the Spring and workshops in Summer and Fall. Students can also tap materials from a current research project for this new education opportunity.
“Using materials from research projects sponsored by NSF and USDA, we’re excited to pursue research and education that will benefit the state by training more college students with novel non-transgenic genome editing techniques,” says Rock.
“Hawaiʻi is heavily dependent on food imports,” he notes. “It’s urgent to simulate local agriculture and workforce development. The grant will promote the education of college students on novel non-transgenic genome editing technologies, such as CRISPR/Cas RNP (ribonucleoprotein) with gene gun/particle bombardment methods. Students will learn and practice the new genome-editing technologies. We hope to engage more students from UHM and other campuses, including community colleges, in food and agricultural career for our future food security and quality.”