Many animals have the ability to regrow extensive portions of their bodies, either when these body parts are damaged or lost or simply as a natural process of body maintenance. Other animals, including our own species, have very limited natural abilities to do so and can suffer severe consequences when the body is damaged. Dramatic advances are being made in understanding how animal regeneration occurs and the related phenomena of body rejuvenation and immortality. Many of these advances are medically relevant, forming the basis of new approaches for treating and overcoming human disease and injury, and are thus increasingly likely to affect our own personal health and well-being.

In this seminar, students will learn about the science behind regeneration and immortality in animals through readings, discussion, and small group projects. We will cover a number of important scientific advances in our understanding of regeneration and immortality, how these are reported in the popular media, and the medical implications of these advances. Students will read and discuss popular news articles, scientific reviews, funding summaries, and primary literature to better understand the science behind these advances and work in small groups to investigate advances of particular interest to them. Through this seminar, students will gain an understanding of the kinds of biological processes that can confer natural abilities to renew the body, become knowledgeable about recent breakthroughs in regeneration biology, better understand how scientific advances can translate into medically relevant advances, and become more discriminating readers of science reports in the popular media.

Assignments include:

• Short write-ups based on readings in which students comment on key findings from articles, identify questions or points needing clarification, reflect on implications of scientific advances, and suggest future work (to practice reading and thinking critically about science and science reports in the news)

• Written comparison of several popular news stories covering the same scientific article (to better understand the role and influence of news media in conveying science to the general public)

• Writing about a recent advance in regeneration biology in the style of a popular science article (to practice writing for the general public)

• Presentation to the class on a recent breakthrough in regeneration biology (to practice public speaking)

• In-class mock grant panel and selection of articles to be picked up by the news (to practice group decision making)

• Small-group work relating to a major finding in regeneration biology, including the funding behind the research, the relevant science, the portrayal of the work in the popular media, and the medical implications of the results (to practice collaborative work and division of labor; to better understand the sequence of events that leads to medically relevant advances)

Readings include:

Articles in the popular science media about scientific advances regarding regeneration and immortality (e.g., Washington Post, New York Times, Science News, Medical News Today)

Original primary articles and scientific literature reviews behind popular media stories

Abstracts of funded research (e.g., NIH, NSF)