Short Term starts here, goes everywhere

Bates students registering for Short Term might jot down the location of their class in a notebook or Palm Pilot, but they soon realize that a classroom is often just the starting point for a five-week adventure.

Take the course Chemistry S32, “Practical Genomics and Bioinformatics,” taught by Glen Lawson, professor of chemistry. According to the Garnet Gateway, the College’s online course registration system, the class ostensibly meets every day in Dana Chemistry Hall, Room 219.

In early May, however, Dana 219 was deserted. Lawson and his nine students were hours away on the Down East coast, enjoying Maine lobster  — minus the usual culinary trappings.

During a two-week stay at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, overlooking Frenchman Bay in the town of Salisbury Cove, the Bates team joined other scientists in a major project to identify and map the lobster “genome,” often described as an organism’s genetic blueprint.

The Bates students examined two genes, selected by Lawson and MDIBL senior scientist David Towle, that are involved in protein creation. The students established the sequence of the genes’ nucleotides (genetic subunits) and evaluated the genes’ expression, “the extent to which the genes are turned on,” Lawson explains.

To do their research, students worked on a sequencing machine. “About the size of three bread boxes,” Lawson says, “consisting of reaction and separation chambers and a sensitive laser, fluorescence detector, and attached computer.”

The actual work at MDIBL isn’t much different from what the students could do in a Bates lab, says Lawson, shown below with (from left) Elizabeth Brady ’07 of Pembroke, Mass., Rashel Burton ’07 of Oxnard, Calif., and Oleg Alekseev ’07 of Chapel Hill, N.C., Mass. But doing the research at the secluded, rustic facility, surrounded by top researchers, was something like having Hemingway read The Old Man and the Sea to you. “It was easier to develop close personal relationships and focus on the many hours of lab work each day,” Lawson says. (The group also enjoyed outdoor recreation: hiking in Acadia, visits to Bar Harbor, a few rounds of miniature golf.)

Beyond memories and professional connections, the project promised minor fame for the Bates students. The genetic sequences they identified will go to GenBank, the database of the National Center for Biotechnology Information, with all the students as co-authors.

The impact of extending knowledge about the crustacean is great: Lobstering is a $200 million Maine fishing industry, and the catch has risen from around 20 million pounds in the 1980s to a record 63 million pounds in 2002  — even as southern New England’s lobster fishery has collapsed, partly due to shell disease not seen in Maine yet.

The Bates course was funded in part by the Maine Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network.

Other Short Term courses venture to farther-flung locales: “Sustaining the Masses,” an economics and environmental studies course in China; “Field Geology in the Southern Rocky Mountains,” an eponymous course spending a month in the West; and the history course “Development and Legacies of Slavery in Cuba” now visiting the island nation.

Back at Bates, the campus is in the full bloom of spring. It’s an optimistic time in New England and perhaps the best time  — way better than October  — for the Red Sox research done by two seniors, Ian Buttermore and Alex Strekel. For their final Short Term, the pair is helping Professor of History Margaret Creighton develop materials for a new Bates course on the Red Sox, their faithful “nation,” and the evolution of major league baseball in general.

The pair has studied texts and films and, of course, done field research at Fenway, taking in Sox games vs. the Indians and A’s.

“Baseball is a cultural phenomenon that embodies all sorts of significance when associated with class, gender and race relations,” says Strekel, who cites David Halberstam’s October 1964, chronicling the last season of the Yankee dynasty and the rise of African American talent in the major leagues, as compelling reading.

Regarding the Sox, “there truly is a Red Sox nation,” Strekel agues, “rooted in the history of baseball and separated from any other group of baseball fans.”

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