Bearing witness, conveying relevance: Journalism students find engaging ways to share stories of HIV/AIDS in Swaziland

By Rachel Lapp
Photos by Zac Albrecht '06

Seated on a reed mat against the wall of a concrete hut, Anna Groff's notes were sparse as she and fellow Goshen College junior Kimberlee Rohrer interviewed Phumile, a young Swazi mother.
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New book released on practical peacemaking for the global church

By Anna Groff

One person can indeed make a difference in the world – starting in their own communities.
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The secret life of microRNA

Bartel receives National Academy of Sciences Award for molecular biology discovery

By Thomas V. Bona '99

For David Bartel, his current work in the research lab is a lot like his memories of his dad's ceramics studio.
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A healing legacy

By Jodi H. Beyeler

When first-year students Stephanie Kennell (Eureka, Ill.) and Kelly Wiebe (Millersburg, Ohio) were both in second grade, they each dressed up as nurses for Halloween,
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Bursting at the seams: Nursing at GC and nationally

By Jodi H. Beyeler

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the U.S. healthcare industry will need more than 2.8 million new workers – most of them nurses – by the year 2010.
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Goshen College Board Policies
Current as of October 18, 2004

Category I: Ends Policies

1.0 Global Ends Statement:

Goshen College students integrate Christian faith, learning and service through an excellent Mennonite college education, at an institution practicing wise stewardship of resources.
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'Ends' are the beginning: Goshen College board embraces new governance model

If you don't know where you are going, how do you know when you have arrived? That question might sound most appropriate for an undergraduate philosophy class, but it is actually the heart of a process that is changing how the Goshen College Board of Directors does its work.
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'Pearl Diver' offers no easy answers amidst visual beauty and tragedy

Though pacifism stands in stark contrast to the violence in the world, when it is tested in real life, the answers are never so clear.
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The process of transformation

Interim President John D. Yordy
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 Peace & Justice Journalism
 HIV/AIDS in Swaziland

 June 2005

The secret life of microRNA

Bartel receives National Academy of Sciences Award for molecular biology discovery

By Thomas V. Bona '99

For David Bartel, his current work in the research lab is a lot like his memories of his dad's ceramics studio.

"You had complete freedom to do what you want there. You could go in that day and design an experiment and do it," he said. "The sense of accomplishment, the fun of making something new without quite knowing how it is going to turn out – research is very similar to when you're doing ceramics."

And for his work in molecular biology, international science organizations are recognizing his experimentation and creativity in the lab. Bartel '82 was recently honored by the National Academy of Sciences and the French Academy of Sciences, the latest in a growing list of accolades.

Bartel and his colleagues at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., have discovered hundreds of tiny ribonucleic acid (RNA) molecules that represent a class of gene regulators much more active in animal and plant development than previously thought. He is exploring how RNA molecules can act as catalysts and regulate gene expression in plant and animal cells.

"Because this type of gene regulation is so different from other types, it's a lot of fun to look at this and see how it works," said Bartel, who also teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). "You get a lot more surprises [which], as a research scientist, is much more exciting."

In May, Bartel received a National Academy of Sciences award, accompanied by a $25,000 prize; the award has been presented "for a recent notable discovery in molecular biology by a young scientist" since 1962.

"This is a huge honor," said Bartel. "When I look back at the previous recipients, I see many of the people that I've looked up to as the real innovators in molecular biology. It's very cool to be considered at least in this limited respect in the same company."

Recognition, in a highly advanced field, is serious affirmation for someone who finds fun and creativity in science.

Bartel appreciates his parents – Goshen College Professor Emeritus of Art Marvin Bartel and Delores Bartel, retired college nurse – for raising him to think differently, and creatively.

"Early on, [in my family] we were taught the evil of coloring books, which just have you color in someone else's drawings rather than make your own," David said. "That extended to everything. There was a lot of positive reinforcement for pursuing things that were clearly our own ideas."

Bartel's professors at Goshen remember him for "a sharp, keen mind," strong reasoning skills and ability to explain his work. Professor Emeritus of Chemistry Don Clemens recalls feeling that Bartel could "go places." He said, "David has done an excellent job, obviously. You get good students and you help them along the way a little bit and they take off. You always push the good students a little harder."

Yet following graduation – not having had available lab research opportunities open to students in the sciences at Goshen today – Bartel wasn't focused on a vocation in research science. Before entering voluntary service with his wife, Jan Preheim '84, he worked as a hospital technician and on an Amish farm. After several years of community development work in Zambia, Bartel's journey led to Cambridge, Mass. In 1987, he began a post-graduate program at Harvard University in toxicology and public health; he later moved into molecular biology, and his professors gave him plenty of room to explore.

"There's quite a bit of flexibility in graduate school," Bartel said. "People are going to do best doing things they're interested in. We never force a grad student to stay at a place where they don't belong; we allow them to do what they want."

Bartel has applied his curiosity and creativity to work with microRNAs that can function to turn off other genes – including those that cause disease. These strands can be reproduced in the laboratory, which opens up potential for practical applications.

It's long been known that RNA serves as the "messenger" that creates proteins out of genes, but microRNAs can also stop protein from being made and "silence" – or turn off – certain genes during development.

Bartel and his colleagues have discovered that these molecules are much more abundant then previously known, and regulate more than a third of human genes. He and his collaborators have also worked on the roles of particular microRNAs, and have found, for example, microRNAs important during blood cell development, and plant microRNAs needed for proper leaf, flower, or stem development. According to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's description of his work, "Basic understanding of gene silencing will enhance its usefulness as a tool for genetic studies and for gene therapy applications for a wide range of disorders." Bartel and several colleagues started a company to develop them for medical use.

His main interest continues to be learning how things work. At MIT, he found a perfect environment in which to do that. Fresh out of a doctoral program in 1993, he went to work in a lab of his own at Whitehead. Now a full member there, he has a staff of 20. Meanwhile, he is one of around 60 biology professors at MIT.

"This is really, as far as I can tell, one of the best places in the world to be working," he said. "There are a lot of people all interested and dedicated towards biological discovery. … That's the type of environment where you can really make advances in research. Everybody here is rooting for each other."

While the sheer numbers make it a very different place than his undergraduate campus, he's found many of his colleagues also come from small liberal arts colleges.

Stan Grove, Goshen professor of biology, said a recent national study shows that smaller schools produce a higher percentage of future doctorate-holders than large universities.

Clemens agreed, saying that students attending small colleges "can have direct contact with professors who hold doctorates [and] get more attention here than at a big school."

Bartel said he remembers the influence of these undergraduate mentors when he is standing in front of his own students.

"Teaching is a lot of work, which you don't realize until you're trying to do it yourself," he said. "One nice thing about the teaching at Goshen is that it's done by people whose primary passion and interest is in teaching."

Bartel's professors at Goshen hope that current students will be inspired not only by Bartel's specific accomplishments, but by the passion and creativity he brings to his field.

"In class, we're basically learning the history of science and preparing students to learn the new things. We want to give them the tools to make those discoveries like David is now," Grove added. "He is working in an area that he is thoroughly interested in and pushing the forefront of our understanding. That is what's exciting."
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