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Overview Advances in biology have broad societal implications. Over the centuries, debates have raged about when human life begins, how to effectively treat disease and suffering in the living, and how to preserve dignity in death. 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. Ready access to individual human genome information, advance in stem-cell research and tissue and organ 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 H1N1, 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 draws upon faculty from virtually every school at the University in order to provide students 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 prepares students for post-graduate studies and 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 12-15 students are admitted into the program each year. Admission requires application and evaluation which occurs in the spring semester of the student’s second year. Students are chosen based on their academic record; a statement describing the student’s purpose and goals in pursuing the 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 participate in a two semester capstone seminar course and write a thesis based upon independent research. These small enrollment courses will facilitate interactions among students and faculty representing diverse interests and areas of expertise.
Faculty The major is administered through the Department of Biology in cooperation with other departments and centers including: Anthropology, Environmental Science, Politics, Philosophy, Religious Studies, the Institute for Practical Ethics, and the Center for Global Health. The program is currently directed by Michael P. Timko, PhD, Professor of Biology. The faculty are drawn from a wide range of departments and centers throughout the University including Anthropology, Biology, Environmental Science, Politics, Philosophy, Religious Studies, Public Health Sciences, the Institute for Practical Ethics and Public Life, and the Center for Global Health. Because of the major’s interdisciplinary nature, numerous faculty throughout the University community, including faculty at the University of Virginia, School of Medicine and Curry School of Education, participate in courses and serve as advisors and thesis mentors. An advisory committee consisting of the Director, Professors James Childress, Religious Studies and the Institute for Practical Ethics, Ruth Bernheim, Public Health Sciences, John Arras of Philosophy and Susan McKinnon of Anthropology oversee the overall direction of the program.