University of Virginia
P.O. Box 400328
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4328
Overview Studies and advances in biology have had broad societal implications for as long as this discipline has existed. Over the centuries, debates have raged about when human life begins. The elucidation of evolutionary theory in the nineteenth century focused attention on the seminal questions of the origins of life and the human species, and had a profound influence on the way we view the development of society. Recent breakthroughs in contemporary biology including the human genome project, stem-cell research, and mammalian cloning, raise numerous ethical and regulatory questions. The increased longevity resulting from medical advances poses major challenges as our society must allocate increasing resources for an expanding elderly population. The spread of viruses such as HIV and Ebola, the increasing prevalence of multi-drug resistant bacteria, and the specter of pathogens being utilized as agents of bioterrorism, raise daunting social and scientific questions. Human-generated pollution contributes to many cancers, ironically just at a time when we have made enormous strides in elucidating the molecular causes of this disease and developing new therapies.
Addressing such issues, questions, and challenges requires not only an understanding of biology, but an appreciation of its context within the humanities and the social sciences. The interdisciplinary, distinguished, major in Human Biology, which draws on faculty from virtually every school at the University, provides students with the opportunity to study the extraordinary interplay between modern biology and society. This program will prepare a select group of students to address ethical, legal and policy issues raised by developments in the life sciences. The major requires a solid foundation in biology and interrelated, complementary courses in the social sciences and humanities. Students will integrate their studies through participating in a capstone seminar, co-taught by faculty from several schools and departments, and by writing a thesis that encompasses scientific, ethical, legal, and policy issues relevant to the student’s topic of independent study. The human biology major will prepare students for further post-graduate studies or careers in law, medicine, bioethics, public health, national and international health policy, the health evaluation sciences, and the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries.
Students The major is comprised of outstanding, creative, independent, and enthusiastic students with diverse backgrounds in biology, the social sciences and humanities who wish to pursue an intellectually challenging and genuinely interdisciplinary program. Approximately 20 students will be admitted into the program during the spring semester of their second year. Students are chosen based on their academic record; a statement describing the student’s purpose and goals in pursuing this major and how it will prepare them for their immediate post-graduate academic or career plans; and a faculty recommendation. During their fourth year, students will participate in a one semester capstone seminar course and a one semester thesis writing course. These small enrollment courses will facilitate interactions among students and faculty representing diverse interests and areas of expertise.Faculty Although the major will be administered through the Department of Biology, other departments and centers including: Anthropology, Environmental Science, Politics, Philosophy, Religious Studies, the Institute for Practical Ethics, and the Center for Global Health, will play significant roles. Faculty from several departments will administer and participate in the major. The program co-directors are Robert Grainger and Elizabeth Machunis-Masuoka, Department of Biology. Other faculty associated with the program and its advisory committee include: James Childress of Religious Studies, Ruth Gaare Bernheim of the Institute for Practical Ethics and the Public Health Program, John Arras of Philosophy, and Susan McKinnon of Anthropology. The interdisciplinary nature of this program will enable numerous faculty throughout the University community to participate in courses and to serve as advisors and mentors.