Southwest Students Explore Genomics and Biomanufacturing in France

Southwest’s International Studies - Study Abroad Program flew a team of eight BIOT 2990 students and faculty to Paris, France recently for a study-abroad project that included tours and lectures at Universite D’Evry-Val-D’Essonne (Evry) and Genepole®, France’s leading biopark. Both Evry and Genepole® were of particular interest because of their research and advances in genomics, biomanufacturing and synthetic biology.

This team of eight, typifying the diversity Southwest promotes, comprised three African-American students - Felesia Shaw, Doretha Corely, and Debra Bonds; two Latinos - Elisa Alicea and Marina Arredondo; and one mixed Native-American Katherine Levanhagen; along with faculty members Dr. Amy Waddell, associate professor and project leader, and Dr. Juliann Waits, assistant professor, both for Natural Sciences. Associate Director of Advertising and Media Relations Brenda Rayner accompanied the team to document and publicize the project.

On the first day, they visited Evry where in an interview Dr. Said Mammar, director of IBISC and vice president of International Cooperation for Evry, explained, “The mission of Evry is to allow the young people in South Paris to have easy access to higher education.” He indicated Evry has about 10,000 students. Though the university has a doctoral program and awards both master's and bachelor’s degrees, it also grants what he termed the University of Two-Year Technology Degree. Mammar says about 2,500 students earn the two-year technology degree annually. He went on to say, “We have partnerships with industry and institutes. Most of them give money to the university in the form of a training tax.” The university works with one main partner, Genepole®, which encourages the development of research in genomics and related sciences and technology.

Two research scientists on faculty delivered captivating lectures: Dr. Patrick Midoux, director of the Centre de Biophysique Moleculaire CNRS and a biomedical expert, discussed Gene and Drug Delivery of Small Molecules, Nucleic Acids Transfer by Non-viral Systems, and Gene transfer with Ultrasound Assisted - Gas Microbubbles. Research outcomes suggest that the ultrasound-assisted gene delivery method holds promise for certain clinical applications for gene therapy; and Dr. Patrick Curmi, first vice president of Scientific Council, presented on Tubulin Dynamics/Physiology-Pathology, DNA Investigation, and Biotechnology: Diamond Nanoparticles. Curmi is involved in the manufacture of fluorescent diamond nanoparticles for use in biology /medicine. He led the group on a tour of the laboratories and showed them a flask of ground synthetic diamonds used in his research.

The visit to Genepole® was equally fascinating. “What I enjoyed most... was the visit to Genepole®. It was most outstanding with 66 companies... It was exciting just knowing that you can pave a career within one of the companies,” said Biotech Student Doretha Corley.

Founded in 1998, Genepole® encompasses research labs, biotech companies, technical facilities and teaching and training facilities (Genepole®, 2011 Directory). Dr. Eric Lameignere, director of Genopole® Enterprises, lectured on the dynamics of the biopark and its 20 academic laboratories, 66 biotech companies, 942 patents on file, and incubation opportunity for startup initiatives.

Assessing the eight-day tour, Dr. Amy Waddell said, “I would like for my students to walk away with an enhanced appreciation for scientists around the world, and for other cultures. I want them to have enlarged their knowledge of the history of other parts of the world by having gone to the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. I would also hope that they’ve acquired a better perception for what it means to be a scientist. That science is not the same all over the world, and that there are political views involved.”

The study abroad program at Southwest is a component of International Studies whose mission is to promote international experiences and global understanding through visits, exchanges, study, instruction, and service. Partial funding was provided by the Homeland Security Program which provides students with an opportunity to explore academic and career paths


Photo caption:Dr. Patrick Curmi (far right) gives Southwest’s Biotech Team; (L to R) Doretha Corley, Marina Arredondo, Katherine Levanhagen, Elisa Alicea, Felesia Shaw, Dr. Amy Waddell, and Dr. Juliann Waits, a tour of a Universite D’Evry biotech laboratory.