New interdisciplinary major
tackles biology issues
Stem cell research? Who decides?
by Jack Mellott
Michael Wormington is director of the new Human Biology Program.
By Kathleen Valenzi
questions arent easy to answer. Under what circumstances,
if any, is embryonic stem-cell research or cloning acceptable?
If medical advances continue to increase human longevity, what
challenges should society prepare for in light of a dramatically
these questions lies a tangle of ethical, legal and policy issues.
Penetrating the tangle requires not only an understanding of modern
biology and its context within the humanities and social sciences,
but also an appreciation for the interplay between biology and
society at large.
help create a cadre of scientifically literate individuals capable
of dealing with these kinds of knotty issues, the University has
created a new interdisciplinary major, Human Biology. The goal
of the major is to prepare students for further study in law,
medicine, bioethics, public health, health policy and health evaluation
sciences, as well as for careers in biotechnology, pharmaceutical
development and related businesses.
Human Biology is a distinguished majors program, applicants must
have attained (and then maintain) a 3.40 or higher cumulative
will be a daunting major, said biology professor and program
director Michael Wormington. Students coming into it from
the sciences will find themselves involved in rigorous humanities
courses requiring a lot of reading, and that will feel different
to them. Students coming in from the humanities will find out
right away that this is not a biology lite degree.
In fact, two years of biology and chemistry are a prerequisite
for admission. Our aim is to strike a balance between science
and the humanities.
spring, 20 second-year students were selected to participate in
the program, which begins this fall. Another 20 will be selected
next spring for admission in fall 2003, giving the major its full
complement of 40 students. As part of satisfying the degree requirements,
students will be required to engage in one semester of research
or independent study. According to Wormington, this might
take the form of laboratory research, or serving as a student
scholar in the Center for Global Health, or engaging in field
work with U.Va. faculty in Brazil or Africa.
their fourth years, majors will write a thesis and attend the
programs Biology and Society capstone course. The
goal of the capstone course is to bring together biologists, anthropologists,
ethicists, political scientists and other members of the University
faculty to offer different perspectives on themes like global
health or health care in the United States, Wormington said.
major will be administered through the biology department, but
other departments and centers, such as the Institute for Practical
Ethics and the Center for Global Health, will play significant
believe that Human Biology will serve as a benchmark for other
new interdisciplinary majors currently in development around Grounds,