For Doris Deak , Class of 1996, Scott Selleck’s Saturday lecture on genomic research sparked an interest that goes beyond the doors of 100 Thomas Building.
“Something that was just touched upon here, definitely I will research farther,” Deak said, adding that past Frontiers of Science lectures have piqued her curiosity and caused her to find out more information on her own.
Selleck, professor and department head of biochemistry and molecular biology, presented “Genome Instability — The Crucible of Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Children? ” His lecture marked the last of six in the 2013 Penn State lectures on the Frontiers of Science series “Your Genes: How They Contribute to Who You Are. ”
Selleck focused his discussion on how researchers are currently studying the genome to find solutions to developmental disorders such as Autism. He said it is important to consider environmental factors in this field of research.
Selleck said in the United States, the total cost associated with mental illness is $317 billion per year, accounting for half of the country’s health care. For comparison, he said cancer costs are estimated at $202 billion.
It is estimated that Autism spectrum disorders affect one out of every 88 children, Selleck said, adding that the number is on the rise.
Professor of statistics Jim Rosenberger said the lecture series was a great way to bring science to the general public.
“Statistics is the language of science, and so a good scientist understands that they need to be cognizant of that and utilize them appropriately,” Rosenberger said.
Rosenberger also said any investigation involving genes immediately provides a large set of data, which provides particularly interesting statistical challenges.
“Those of us who are geneticists and genomists are asking ‘are we going to be able to take this information from our genome and do something with it?’ ” Selleck said.
Selleck’s interest is in what he calls “geogenomics,” which is studying the effect that environment can have on a person’s genome.
“To really understand relationships of how environment affects health, we need to be able to spatially relate all these things including genetics,” Selleck said, referring to a broad span of variables, such as where a person lives, and what his or her environmental exposures are.
For example, if a mother lives within 300 meters of a freeway while being pregnant, the child’s chance of being born with Autism doubles, Selleck said.
“These problems are not solved by short term investments,” Selleck said. “They’re solved by steady consistent engagement in science.”