Jan 28, 2015 1:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

After being nominated by colleagues at the University of Utah, Louisa Stark, the director of the Genetic Science Learning Center, has been awarded the Genetics Society of America’s Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education.

“I was so honored they would consider my work and the learning center’s work of high enough repute to nominate me,” said the associate professor in Human Genetics.

Director of the Learning Center since 2001, she believes genetics and the genome are increasingly part of everyone’s life — not just as students but also as adults. The award recognizes Stark’s ongoing and substantial impact on genetics education and her decades of experience in professional development.

The learning materials developed by the center under her leadership are literally used around the world from England to China.

“Our focus is making science easy for everyone to understand,” she said. “I think we have developed a talented [team] that’s able to translate science and health in ways that are easily understood by non-experts in the field.”

Stark pointed to an animation of cell size and scale that became highly popular on the internet a few years ago and was shared by thousands.

Education helps people understand how disease may be passed on from grandparents to parents to children but also is affected by other factors such as lifestyle and the environment, she said.

“Multiple gene variants can influence risk, but you can impact whether you get heart disease by lifestyle choices: diet and exercise are very key to health,” Stark said. “People need to understand about inheritance — there’s a lot of misconception.”

With the rise of so-called genetically modified food, people also need to understand that farmers have been performing selective breeding of plants and animals for thousands of years, she said.

The Center is currently working on a set of materials about metabolism called “Food to Fuel,” which will examine how food is used by the body and individual cells.

To view the center’s learning materials, go to: Learn.Genetics.utah.edu

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