Animal CSI: Virus Hunters


Department: Biological Sciences 

Instructor: Sarah LaMere and Summer Aymar 
Instructor's Email:; 
Prerequisites: None

Course Description

This course is designed to teach high school students about infectious viral diseases in animals, zoonotic transmission (i.e. transmission of infections from animals to humans), and molecular diagnostics used for investigations of pathogenic viruses. Through lectures, group activities, laboratories, and field trips, students will learn techniques for identifying and characterizing infectious viral diseases when they arise. This course will include case-based learning, as well as hands-on laboratories that will allow students to try their hands at molecular techniques. Students will have the opportunity to see how veterinarians handle such cases via field trips at local zoological facilities.

Content and Evaluation

By the end of the course, students will be able to describe different types of viruses, how they may be transmitted, and diagnostic techniques used for their identification. Students will be evaluated based on their participation in class discussion and group exercises, which will include group presentations on case investigations. Students will also be expected to turn in a writing assignment at the end of the course that details an investigation of a specific viral disease of their choice.

Course Outline

Week 1 - Introduction to molecular biology and viruses; overview of lab techniques

  • Overview of molecular biology
  • Overview of viruses: structure, methods of replication, transmission, and taxonomy
  • Overview of zoonotic viruses
  • Introduction to PCR and concepts behind the technique
  • Overview of laboratory safety
  • Lab notebook tutorial
  • PCR laboratory
  • How to do a Blast search for DNA sequences
  • Field trip: SeaWorld necropsy

Week 2 - Diagnostic techniques and steps in a disease investigation

  • Molecular Techniques used to identify viruses
    • PCR
    • RT-PCR
    • Quantitative PCR
    • In situ hybridization
    • Next generation sequencing
    • Antibody/antigen titers
  • Steps in Disease Investigation
    • Documentation of clinical signs in animals and/or humans
    • Necropsy
    • Sample collection
  • Field trip: Molecular Diagnostics laboratory at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Week 3 - Animal CSI cases

  • This week will be devoted to case-based learning. Students will use techniques they have learned to solve 3 mystery cases of animal deaths!

Learn About the Application Process