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New Book From Professor of Biology Philip Meneely

When Professor of Biology Philip Meneely began developing his course “Advanced Genetic Anaylysis” in 1995, he faced a challenge: In an era when new genomes are sequenced by the day, how to capture that quickly changing wealth of genomic information?

He wouldn’t, he decided. Instead of trying to corral those rapid fire developments in his course materials, Meneely chose to focus on key principles—“on the experimental strategies and intellectual foundations that allow us to interpret genetic information.” Now, after more than a decade spent fine-tuning what has become a popular course, Meneely brings that same approach to a new textbook, Advanced Genetic Analysis, to be published by Oxford University Press in January.

“What I have aimed to do is to show how the principles of molecular biology that people have been studying for the last 100 years lay the foundation for what is being done in an age when genomes are being sequenced,” says Meneely. “The book was developed with the idea that students have Google, iPhones and Wikipedia. They can get the latest information quickly.” Thus, the new textbook “is not so much about what we have learned—that will continue to change—but rather about how we have learned it.”

Just as he does in his Haverford course, Meneely focuses on detailed analyses of five model organisms: the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, the nematode worm Caneorhabditis elegans, the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, the flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana, and the mouse Mus musculus.

Using examples from these organisms, Meneely illustrates important principles of genetic analysis, dividing the book into four units, “Genes and Genomes,” “Genes and Mutants,” “Gene Activity,” and “Gene Interaction.” Also included are case studies, text boxes that expand or speculate on topics in the main text, and references to key articles in the literature.

Meneely, who finished the book in the spring while also serving as Associate Provost, credits his biology students as contributors. “Their comments on my class greatly shaped the approach that I took in this book,” Meneely writes in the preface to the text. “Many of them in the last few years patiently read fragments of chapters, scratched their heads over poorly drawn figures and helped me think carefully about better ways to describe a subject. … I am fortunate to be able to teach such inquisitive and enthusiastic students each year.”

Matthew Willmann, a research associate at the University of Pennsylvania and a visiting professor at Haverford last year, also made key contributions to the book. “He added plant genetics, corrected some of my errors and had good ideas and suggestions,” says Meneely.

Still in the development stage is the website that will accompany the book. “All scientific textbooks have websites today, with resources for instructors and students,” says Meneely. “But I want to do more. I am hoping to post regular updates to the site, where I’d give additional examples or say: Here is something new in the last month related to Chapter 7.  The site will have an RSS feed and I would like to make it more interactive too, something closer to Wiki.” If and how that could all be accomplished is something Oxford University Press is still looking at, he says.

--Eils Lotozo

Students cross in front of Founders Hall.

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