BOLLI Bioethics & Law Course

In a country where baby boomers comprise 26.1% of the population, a commitment to lifelong learning has never been more important – both for the education of a large constituency of voters, and for the health of our nation. Adult learning has been shown to offer protective features against many diseases of aging and has recently become a priority for progressive academic institutions, such as Brandeis University.

At BOLLI (Brandeis Osher Lifelong Learning Initiative), adult learning is therefore a high priority. During interactive and informative classes, both historical and current issues are studied and debated. The program began in 2000, created to meet the “still unfulfilled demand for educational and intellectual stimulation for adults who are beyond the traditional university years.” In 2004, this Brandeis Adult Learning Institute (BALI) developed into the BOLLI program, “one of 122 Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes throughout the nation, offers a broad range of noncredit educational activities for retired, semi-retired and other adult participants. The program emphasizes peer leadership, individual and group participation and research, and an atmosphere of sociability and mutual encouragement.” [2]

This fall, a Bioethics & Law course is being co-taught by Charles Baron, Professor Emeritus of Boston College Law School, and by Milton Heifetz, a retired world-renowned neurosurgeon. Two Brandeis graduate students: Marilana Rufo, a Masters of Philosophy candidate, and Danna Zeiger, a Molecular and Cell Biology PhD Candidate, have enjoyed the opportunity to participate as BOLLI scholars in this Bioethics & Law course. The students of the class range from established lawyers to retired teachers and through a wide variety of ages and experiences. Each class elicits constant fervor over heated debates of scientific topics such as the bioethics of organ transplantation, human experimentation, and genetics and the law. In the genetics and law class, led by Danna Zeiger, the discussion was focused specifically on embryonic stem cell and embryo selection. Both of these controversial issues have been recently relevant in legal contexts, such as in the court-mandated freeze on stem cell research. Interesting legal issues, such as the restrictions of defects in embryos selected for preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), the range of genetic defects known, and defects which are culturally controversial, such as deafness, were discussed and such legal cases were studied and debated. These issues are often hard for lay-voters to decipher and the BOLLI program affords the opportunity for adults from the community to learn about and discuss these often-jargon-filled but interesting controversies. To learn more or to become involved in the BOLLI program, see

Dr. James Haber is to be named the 2011 Thomas Hunt Morgan medal recipient

Much like the scientist after whom this prestigious award is named,  Jim Haber has spent his scientific career asking big questions about genetics with the help of a small organism.  Instead of the humble fruit fly employed by Thomas Morgan, Jim and his students use the even humbler baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to study the complicated mechanisms of DNA recombination and repair.

Angie Brooksby (

Packed inside each little yeast cell is approximately 6000 genes worth of DNA, and the cell’s molecular machinery works very hard to fix any mistakes that might get incorporated into the genetic code.  Such mistakes can be caused by ultraviolet irradiation, mutagenic chemicals, and may even arise during the process of DNA replication itself.  Understanding how the yeast cell copes with these blows to its genetic integrity, as well as the consequences of mistakes gone unfixed, has been the focus of the Haber lab for over 20 years– but you don’t have to take my word for it.

In addition to recognizing purely scientific accomplishments, the Thomas Hunt Morgan medal is awarded to scientists who have proven to be excellent mentors to the students they work with.  In the spring of 2008, former students and post-docs of the Haber lab gathered at Brandeis to participate in a symposium honoring Jim’s 60th birthday, and the turn-out made clear that a sizeable amount of those who worked with Jim have either gone on to start successful labs of their own or entered into post-doctoral positions in labs of good repute.

When asked to reflect on what it’s been like to work with Jim, recent Haber lab graduate Dr. Wade Hicks answered that Jim “was a great mentor for me because he was always available to listen and talk about science.”  When further pressed against the journalistic blade and asked if Jim hosts any great parties, Wade coughed up that  “[Jim] does host the annual Halloween/pumpkin carving party that all the lab members’ kids enjoy…  What’s better than pumpkins, large knives, kids, and alcoholic beverages!?”

And finally, Jim’s eager willingness to talk about science extends beyond his lab and into the larger Life Sciences community– and likely beyond that.  Graduate students at departmental social events would be wise to chat Jim up regarding their projects– not to mention their gardens, favorite books, wine recommendations, etcetera.  In addition to being a great scientist, Jim is an all-around Good Guy.

Congratulations, Dr. Haber!

For further press see:

The Justice

Brandeis NOW

Genetics Society: Model Organisms meeting in June

Jim Haber writes:

The Genetics Society of America is hosting an exciting meeting on Model Organisms to Human Biology in Boston Jun 12-15.  Sue Lovett and I have both been involved in its planning and we urge you to go.  Membership in GSA is cheap and the cost of the meeting is low, as you won’t need housing.  There is an excellent lineup of speakers.  See:

Haber elected to NAS

Brandeis Biology Professor Jim Haber has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, according to a story at Brandeis NOW. For more about Prof. Haber and his laboratory’s research accomplishments, please see the Haber Lab website.

Lots of seminars coming

Whole bunch of seminars and award lectures coming up in the next week. Steven Reppert from U. Mass. talks today at 4 about monarch butterfly migration and its relationship to the circadian clock. On Monday at noon, Giovanni Bosco (PhD in Mol Cell Biol, Brandeis, 1998) will talk about condensins and global chromosome structure.

On Tuesday, we have the 39th Annual Rosenstiel Award lectures at 4. Jules Hoffman and Ruslan Medzhitov will get award “for their elucidation of the mechanisms of innate immunity”.

Next Wednesday we have the Heart Research Series lecture. Monty Krieger, Whitehead Professor of Molecular Genetics at MIT, will talk about cholesterol, genetics, and heart disease. Finally, next Thursday will have Josh Tenenbaum from MIT speaking in the Psychology Colloquium about “How to Grow a Mind”.

Details (time, room number) about upcoming seminars are always available in the Seminars widget in the left-hand column on this blog.

Research quickies

Some of our recent publications (descriptions are mine, not the authors’)

Lau: Finding new insect viruses by sequencing small RNAs (siRNA and piRNA)

Katz Lab: Taste affects smell

Sengupta Lab: Stress early in life causes epigenetic changes in worms

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