Introducing Genetics Research in the Classroom

Dr. Terri Holzen strives to create research lab for students

Terri Holzen, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology, understands the delicate balance between research and educational responsibilities, and she is determined to find ways to infuse her groundbreaking genomics and genetics research into the classroom for the betterment of her students.

Holzen, who earned a Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Chicago and conducted post-doctoral research at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, hopes her work has the potential to uncover new insights into how cells become cancerous.

Holzen is resuming her studies of the unique properties of yeast. Yeast are eukaryotic organisms, like plants and animals, which means that they contain cells with a nucleus, and this creates promising new avenues of research on cellular division within human beings.

"It's a very useful organism to perform genetics on," she said. "A lot of the processes that I'm interested in, that involve DNA repair or DNA replication, have pretty much stayed the same [in yeast] throughout evolution. While I'm not dealing with human cells, the work done on yeast cells provide insights into what is happening in human cells as well."

Holzen is interested in studying the genetic programs that are in place in yeast cells that regulate when a cell replicates its DNA. Cells replicate their DNA immediately before they divide, and irregular cell division is closely related to cancer.

"Many of the genes involved in starting DNA replication, if overactive, may be linked ot certain kinds of cancer," she said.

While the research is highly specific, the potential implications are quite broad. To that end, Holzen is applying for grants through the National Institute of Health and the National Scene Foundation to acquire funding for the necessary equipment to continue this research at Mount Mary.

In addition to the potential for substantial scientific contributions, Holzen is developing a stronger link between her research and the classroom. Her goal is to create a small research lab at Mount Mary and extend opportunities to students to assist her in her work, either during the academic year or as an independent study during the summer.

"I am an educator, but I'm also a scholar, and I should be an example of scholarly activity to my students," she said.