Students Explore Personal Genomics

Students from the local Kannapolis middle and High School had the unique opportunity to explore the human genome and learn about bioinformatics – the application of computer technology to biological information.


Nowlan working with a student to find out what genetic risks he has inherited.

In 2012, three generations of my family and I had our genetic markers commercially sequenced. The students used this DNA data to identify who was related to who, what kinds of diseases I was most at risk for, and make new discoveries about my genetic inheritance.


Ivory helping a student answer questions about genetics and inheritance.

The purpose of the workshop was to drive home how new genetic technologies are increasingly being used, as well as to give the students experience using genomics software – Integrated Genome Browser. Thanks to Tanner Deal and Ivory Blakley for helping design and lead the workshop, and to Doug Vernon for organizing the “Scientist for a Day” program. For more information about the “Scientist for a Day” program, check out the story in the Independent Tribune.

Scientist for a Day

A big part of being both a scientist and educator is giving bright young students the opportunity to take part in science. This year the Loraine lab has joined the Plants for Human Health Institute’s “Scientist for a Day” program. Led by Doug Vernon, the program brings in local elementary students to the North Carolina Research Campus to take part in various hands-on experiments in the labs. More information about this program can be found here:

Students germinating seeds in the lab


How to take notes on a bioinformatics project

Notes on data processing should follow these guidelines:
  • Each entry starts with the date in bold.
  • Each entry is a bulleted list.
  • Bullets should be clear but they do not need to be complete sentences, and people can be referred to by initials for brevity.

Include information about what was done and where to find the results, but do not clutter this document with why anything or how exactly; that information belongs elsewhere.

Information to include
  • Links (or paths) to data, reports, web resources, more detailed summaries, etc.
  • Basic description of what files are made and where to find them.
  • The line of code used to run a process
  • The fact that a process completed successfully or notes about what indicated that it did not.

Information to include elsewhere,
(put a link the in the data processing notes, don’t write it out here)

  • Rational about why the parameters used were chosen.
  • Experiment layout, background, reasoning, results, discussion.
  • Explanations about why a process did not work, and why the fix does.

IGB workshop at 2015 SESDB

IGB made an appearance at the 2015 Southeast Regional Society for Developmental Biology (SESDB) conference at Clemson University. I led a workshop on visual analysis of sequencing data using IGB. There was a good turnout of conference attendees, as well as several students from Clemson University.

Following the workshop there were many exciting talks on current research in developmental biology. Some of my favorite talks were on regenerating hearts and spinal cords in fish, how hair cells develop, and how to use sharks to better understand brain development.

As a graduate of Clemson University, it was a lot of fun to return to Clemson, lead a workshop, and enjoy the company of many brilliant scientists.


Everyone enjoying the final night’s food and festivities, including the band FNKY music.

IGB at Lenoir-Rhyne University

In spring of 2015, Mason and I visited Dr. Scott Shaeffer’s genetics class at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, North Carolina.

The goal of our visit was was to teach students about genomics and genetics using Integrated Genome Browser. We also hoped to gain fresh insight into how new users respond to the IGB interface.


Lecture on genes and development.

To start, I gave a talk on developmental genetics, describing how a single mutation in a gene can have huge consequences for a developing embryo. I explained  how advances in technology have made sequencing genomes more affordable than ever, allowing researchers to quickly identify disease causing mutations.


Hands on training with IGB.

Students then worked hands-on with genomic data using IGB. Their first task was to find genetic mutations by exploring whole genome sequencing data. They then used the data to build coverage graphs, allowing them to find deletions. The final task was to explore my own personal 23andMe data using IGB to see if I was at risk for any genetic diseases.

After a quick demonstration, the students had no trouble visualizing the data in IGB. Also, we were happy to see that no-one had any trouble installing IGB on their personal laptops.


Mason and Dr. Schaefer answering questions.

This was the second time the IGB team has visited Lenoir-Rhyne. In 2013, Alyssa Gulledge visited another  of Dr. Schaeffer’s classes, which was using IGB to annotate the newly assembled blueberry genome.  At the time Mason was still attending school there, and this visit was his first exposure to genome visualization tools. IGB really stuck in Mason’s mind, and after graduating he joined the Loraine Lab as an intern, eventually taking over the role of lead tester on the IGB project.

We hope that this year’s visit will inspire other students to pursue careers in science and technology.


We hope everyone had fun learning about developmental genetics and IGB.

Welcome to our blog

Thanks to funding from public sources (NSF, NIH, North Carolina) we get to do interesting research that benefits many people. In this blog, we plan to share some what we’ve learned.

Check back here to read posts on research and related topics from Loraine Lab members.