Bioinformatics in Agricultural Science

  • Student experiential learning
  • Curricula design and materials development
  • Student recruitment and retention.

As bioinformatics is a relatively new interdisciplinary area, it has not yet been a subject of emphasis in food and agricultural sciences education.  On the other hand, as will be described in the tick genome analysis projects, bioinformatics skills are very useful in cutting-edge agricultural science research. Furthermore, it has been noted in the National Research Council report on A New Biology for the 21st Century that bioinformatics will play a crucial role in overcoming the food challenge of the world by helping to generate food plants to adapt and grow sustainably in changing environments. The success of this project will lead to the addition of a new agricultural science theme to our Bioinformatics Program at UTEP and will bring about critical impacts on the overall education and research training for future agricultural scientists.        

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of bioinformatics, this project will involve multiple disciplines: biology, biochemistry, computer science, mathematics, and statistics. As a problem-based educational project, it will draw talents from these disciplines into bioinformatics training and better prepare them for professional careers in agricultural science. Our activities are focused on problems relevant to food security, an important strategic research area contributing to multiple disciplines in the global effort of the agricultural community to enhance food supply and sustainability. Policy-making, farm management, and livestock production are examples of various disciplines with profound impacts on food security. These disciplines, in turn, depend on fast, reliable scientific information acquisition and analysis in the research sector. This project will provide students with the education to join the workforce in agriculture. The outcomes of the students training and curriculum modification in this proposed project will provide insights for other institutions to adapt our multidisciplinary and problem-based approach in new training programs of agricultural science.

We propose a collaborative, problem-based approach to improve the quality of food and agricultural science education by offering experiential learning opportunities in agricultural science. Students will be actively engaged in mining the genome of the cattle tick, Rhipicephalus microplus, with the goal of assisting USDA-ARS research scientists develop novel control technology and vaccines against this parasite. Bioinformatics problems from the agricultural science that span multiple disciplines provide a perfect setting for students to acquire and practice a variety of transferrable skills such as teamwork, communication, computing, data management, statistical analysis, drawing inferences, etc. Furthermore, we will improve the content of three statistics and bioinformatics courses by integrating web-based modules containing case studies in agricultural science problems. These will facilitate more students from underrepresented groups to develop skills and competency for jobs in the related areas. This collaboration between the USDA-ARS lab and UTEP’s will align our efforts in the academic development and professional training of the future generation of bioinformatics professionals and enhance their career opportunities in agricultural science.