Dominican College has been selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to pilot a new laboratory for undergraduate biology students. Just 20 schools were chosen nationwide to participate in the SEA-PHAGES (Science Education Alliance Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science) Project.
Bernadette Connors, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Biology, said the program will result in freshman biology students being trained in more advanced laboratory techniques than they had been in the past. She said the students will become “virus hunters” and will look for bacterial viruses, otherwise known as bacteriophages, in soil samples. Once they isolate a virus and extract the DNA, HHMI will do the genome sequencing on the virus and students will subsequently piece together the genomic information.
Dr. Connors stressed that the students will have ownership of the project throughout the 2016-2017 school year. “They find the organisms. They extract its DNA. They figure out what the sequence looks like that makes that organism what it is,” she said. “It’s very experimental. We don’t know what the results will be, so they are really digging and figuring it out for themselves and controlling it.”
HHMI provides support for the program by training faculty and conducting the genome sequencing. At the end of the project, one Dominican College student will be chosen to go to a national meeting to present the work of the group. In addition, the class will become authors of an article in a peer-reviewed publication.
Dr. Connors said the program will provide students with a good foundation. “All of biology is going the way of bioinformatics –putting together DNA pieces to better tell what an organism can and cannot do.”