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Exploring the Human Genome

Amanda Seagroves Amanda Seagroves '14

Sitting in a high school biology class in Tennessee, Amanda Seagroves had an epiphany.

"It was the first time they taught us genetics," she explains. The application to medicine was obvious. "It seemed so amazing-what could we do with that information?" she recalls thinking. "So much of medicine today is about controlling an outcome. With genetics, you control the problem before it has an effect." Seagroves entered Queens in the fall of 2010 with a serious interest in biology, soon declaring it her major. By her sophomore year, she began looking for an internship to learn more about genetics. All Queens students must complete at least one undergraduate internship; many do more.

This past summer she was one of 15 undergraduate students accepted into a fellowship program at Duke University's Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy. For 10 weeks her schedule was crammed with research, data analysis, seminars and small projects. Duke launched the institute a dozen years ago to address the fast-paced business of genomics. The center not only supports research, but also brings together scientists, business leaders and ethicists-to name a few- to examine the tough questions raised by mapping DNA.

Seagroves' assignments included interviewing families dealing with Bardet-Biedl syndrome, a rare disorder caused by genetic mutations. The most common symptoms are vision loss and obesity. "Each day was a little different," she says, and usually began with background research for a faculty member.

"The Duke internship was perfect for her because it's that integrated approach," says her academic advisor, Associate Professor Patricia Koplas. As chair of the biology department at Queens, she knows Seagroves both in and out of the classroom; she's seen a passion for learning that crosses disciplines. "She's an incredible example of a liberal arts student-a renaissance woman," says Koplas. She notes that Seagroves undertook an independent study last year on the British poet John Milton, "just because she wanted to." Right now she's working on a special research project for psychology.

The Duke internship gave Seagroves a new vision. "My ultimate goal is to go to law school," she says. "I'm interested in the patent side of law, the intellectual rights of law." She'd like to see the gap bridged between the public's perception of genomic science and the laws that govern it.

But in the meantime, after she graduates in 2014, she might have to squeeze in a master's in psychology. The current research project she's working on is looking very, very promising.

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