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Undergraduate Program on Genomic Sciences (Licenciatura en Ciencias Genómicas), National Autonomous University of Mexico

The Undergraduate Program on Genomic Sciences of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), Licenciatura en Ciencias Genomicas (LCG), was created in 2003 by former Rector, Dr Juan Ramon de la Fuente, as a central foundation for the development of genomic sciences in Mexico. The host institutions of LCG are the Center for Genomic Sciences and the Institute of Biotechnology, both located in the Campus Cuernavaca of UNAM. In addition, several institutions support the Program. These include the Institutes of Mathematics, Physical Sciences, Biomedical Research, Cellular Physiology and Ecology and the School of Medicine from UNAM. The Program has received great support from the National Institute of Genomic Medicine (INMEGEN) and from the National Laboratory for Genomic Biodiversity (LANGEBIO). As mentioned below, several international institutions have also been in close contact with the LCG.

The first generation started the Program in August 2003 and in August 2011 the nineth generation will start. The first five generations have finished the Program and 95 students have received their Undergraduate Degree. Most of the students have decided to continue their academic career with PhD Programs, either in Mexico and in major institutions abroad.

The LCG has a very large demand, about 300 aspirants each year. At the same time, the criteria for admision are of very high standards, including exams in mathematics, chemistry and modern biology, as well as interviews with several researchers. About 30 students are incorporated in each new generation.

Due to the quality of the students and the comprehensiveness of the Program the LCG has acquired a high recognition among the most prestigious academic institutions of the World. These institutions include the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of California, the Baylor Collage of Medicine, the Sanger Institute, the University Collage of London, the Pasteur Institute, the Max Planck Institute, among others.

The Program of LCG has been considered as unique, not only for Mexico or Latin America, but in a world context. It combines different disciplines, mainly mathematics, computer sciences and modern biology, into an integrated and comprehensive curriculum. The Program comprises four years divided in semestral academic activities. Each year represents a cualitalive step in the maturation of the student.

During the first year or Basic Level the student acquires knowledge in the different disciplines that constitute the foundations of genomic sciences. The training in mathematics starts with discrete mathematics and linear algebra, to continue in the second year with calculus, differential equations, and stochastic processes. In regard to computer sciences the students learn the rationale of programming and start to use different languages. Biology is represented by biochemistry, molecular biology, cellular biology and genetics. In addition the students are introduced to bioinformatics and to the Basic methodological approaches currently used in genomic sciences. During this year the method of teaching is based in textbooks supplemented with clasical research articles, and discussions with their respective teachers.

During the second year or Advanced Level, the students master the essential branches of genomics, in particular bioinformatics and biostatistics, functional genomics, evolutionary genomics, and genomic models with special interest in the human genome. The learning is now based in current scientific papers and in the development of training research projects.

The third year or Integrative Level is centered in the discussion of research projects with their respective principal investigators, leaders in certain aspects of genomic sciences, from both Mexico and abroad. A central activity during this period corresponds to the Program Frontiers in Genomics. A profesor from a major academic institution participates as invited scientist to interact with the students. This interaction is based in both, formal research seminars and informal discussions. A parallel activity is focussed in the discussion of genomic projects being developped in Mexico. During this year the student discusses about 50 different projects with the corresponding principal investigators that lead each project.
In addition the students discuss integral aspects of genomics, currently focussed in systems biology and in bioethics.

Finally, the fourth year or Research Level is dedicated to the perform of a research Project by the student, who is integrated as part of a scientific or professional team in a prestigious institution in Mexico or abroad.

In addition to the official curriculum of the LCG, the training of the students is complemented with optative workshops in topics of special interest for particular students. This topics include, but are not limited to the following: genomic medicine, forensic genomics, methagenomics, epigenetics, advanced mathematics and synthetic biology. In regard to synthetic biology it is important to point out that students from LCG have participated in the international competition iGEM, organized each year by the MIT. In 2008 the LCG-UNAM team obtained a bronze medal; in 2009 the students obtained a silver medal and in 2010 the respective team obtained a gold medal.

In summary, the LCG receives students with just an elementary knowledge regarding genomics and guides them through several steps, culminating in performing original research and having the feeling of pertaining to the internacional scientific community. As mentioned above, several leaders of the field of genomic sciences have closely interacted with the students and have discussed the program in detail with great interest. Up to the present, about 150 researchers from major institutions have acquired direct knowledge of the students and the Program. We can state that the unanimous opinion is that the LCG is an original and unique Program and that its students are comparable with the best students in the most prestigeous institutions. Twenty opinions of such leaders can be consulted in the Web page of the LCG under the title "Evaluacion internacional de la LCG" (internacional evaluation of the LCG).

Through the LCG Mexico is preparing the leaders that will allow the development of genomic sciences at the highest level in our Country. In three years from now the first students will finish their academic training, including the Undergraduate Program as well as a PhD and a Postdoctoral training. The goal of most of the students is to return to Mexico and participate in a major scientific development. The challenge of the Country is to develop a big Project to provide the new researchers with the positions, facilities and budget that their first level training demands. This Project should be the result of a collaborative effort that must include the major academic institutions of Mexico, the Nacional Autonomous University of Mexico and the Polytechnical Institute; the public sector, mainly through the Institute for Genomic Medicine; and some private philantropic institutions; as well as several internacional instutions that have shown particular interest in our students. In this form Mexico will have the unique opportunity to become a first level world leader in an area, genomic sciences, that is considered the most promissing scientific field for the benefit of mankind in the years to come.

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