Phage are viruses that specifically attack bacteria. They are extremely diverse and numerous; recent estimates suggest that there are 10 billion times as many phage on earth as there are stars in the entire universe! Interestingly, we know relatively little about phage biology and their role in bacterial turnover. This project, supported in part by Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science program (SEA-PHAGES) program, utilizes undergraduate scientists to discover novel phage and help uncover the many mysteries surrounding their unique role in our ecosystem. This experiential research project generates authentic data that is utilized by the scientific community in an effort to better understand phage biology and explore their potential therapeutic effects.
In the fall term, students collect soil samples from around campus and their homes and we isolate phage from these samples. The phage are then purified, given names by the student discoverers, imaged by electron microscopy, submitted for permanent repository in the national phage archive, and their DNA genomes are isolated. The genomic DNA is sequenced over the winter break by HHMI. During the spring semester student scientists employ bioinformatic tools to annotate the sequenced phage genomes. These annotated genomes are uploaded to GenBank with all student participants as co-authors.
The data generated from both semesters is disseminated by the students at the Freshman Research Initiative (FRI) poster symposium in late April. Additionally, paid for by HHMI, two student scientists accompanied by one instructor will present the results of that year’s research at the national SEA-PHAGE symposium at HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus in Maryland. Please investigate the SEA-PHAGE website for an overview of the program (https://www.seaphages.org/) and feel free to contact either Dr. Peters or Dr. Boury with questions or for more information about the course.
Topics: Microbiology, Biology, Bioinformatics