Biodiversity: Exploring the Marine Diversity of Woods Hole Using Molecular Tools

Spring Quarter:  April 11 – May 3,  2024
Instructor: Andrew Gillis (MBL)
UChicago Course Number: BIOS20198

Course Description:

In this course, students will have the opportunity to explore the large diversity of marine species distributed in Woods Hole, Massachusetts and its surroundings. We will combine fieldwork with anatomy, development, genomics and bioinformatics to study different aspects of the evolution, ecology, taxonomy, physiology and biogeography of marine organisms in this unique location. Students will integrate knowledge and analytical tools from different biological disciplines to develop short research projects. During the three weeks of the course, student will interact with local researchers, have access to Marine Biological Laboratory facilities and specimen collections, participate in ongoing research projects, and contribute novel data and information to advance our understating of Earth’s marine biodiversity.

Learning Objectives:

Students are expected to:

  • Define and explain fundamental concepts and principles pertaining biodiversity and genomics.
  • Recognize the relationship between biodiversity and genomics and its importance to understand present issues faced by biodiversity.
  • Identify the main drivers of biodiversity decline, specifically those negatively impacting marine animal biodiversity.
salamander on the ground
Salamander. Credit: James Gillis
students doing field work in the river
First day in the field. Credit: James Gillis
wood frog on hand
Wood Frog. Credit James Gillis

Course Structure:

Participating students will work in teams of two to three students under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Gillis and Dr. Oscar Pineda-Catalan. Each team will develop a research project addressing a question regarding populations, species, and/or communities of marine organisms in Woods Hole. Students will apply DNA barcoding and comparative anatomical methods to analyze ecological, evolutionary, and/or other biological aspects (e. gr. physiology, development, behavior, among others) of the organisms under study.

Activities during the three weeks at MBL be divided as follows:

  1. Lecture Seminars:  to provide theoretical background, expose students to current trends in the fields of biodiversity, genomics, conservation biology, among others, and to promote interaction and discussions among participants (i.e. students, mentors, and instructors).
  • 1.1 Lectures in:
    • Marine Animal Biodiversity
    • Woods Hole Ecology
    • Principles in Conservation Biology
    • Conservation Genetics
    • Phylogenetics and Biodiversity
  • 1.2 Weekly Discussion & Journal Club
    • Group meetings to share experiences, get feedback from the group, and discuss selected papers relevant to research topics.
  1. Fieldwork: to explore the region, its ecosystems, and potential areas for specimen collection. Students will receive training in fieldwork methods for studying populations, communities, and ecosystems, and will collect biological specimens and ecological data pertaining student’s research projects.
  1. Laboratories:
  • 3.1 Taxonomy & Specimens Preservation Labs
    • To collect morphological and biological data from specimens and introduce students to imaging methods.
    • To classify taxonomically specimens collected by students.
    • To train students in lab methods for preserving marine animal specimens.
  • 3.2 Laboratories
    • Molecular Methods
    • Bioinformatics and Computer labs
    • Open labs, where students will conduct experiments and data analyses specific to their research projects.
  1. Public Lab & Final Presentations
  • Students will host a public lab session, at the end of the course, to allow general public to visit the lab and informally discuss what they have done during the course.
  • Students will also do final presentations to share their results and findings with the University of Chicago and Marine Biological Laboratory communities.