In January 2013, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) invited eight new schools to join the SEA-PHAGES program (Science Education Alliance–Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science) to engage their students in scientific discovery on a national scale.
SEA-PHAGES institutions across the nation in 2014-2015 academic year.
During the 2012-2013 academic year more than 1,800 students at over 70 universities and colleges participated in phage biology research. HHMI works with HHMI professor Graham Hatfull’s group at the University of Pittsburgh and Steve Cresawn at James Madison University to offer the SEA-PHAGES program to train faculty to offer this research-based laboratory course. Students in the course participate in wet lab and bioinformatics research as they discover and investigate new phages. Phages are soil-dwelling viruses that infect bacteria. Students directly contribute to the scientific community and learn science through research and the new schools will expand this opportunity even more in the 2014-2015 academic year.
In the first term, the beginning college students isolate phage from locally collected environmental samples. Given the diversity of these viruses, each one is almost certain to be unique, so the students name their newly identified phages. They then spend the rest of the term purifying and characterizing their phage and extracting genomic DNA. Between terms, the purified DNA is sequenced. In the second term, the students receive files containing the DNA sequence and use bioinformatics tools to annotate the genome. They additionally perform comparative genomics with data from other phages, many of which have been isolated by other SEA schools.
The eight new SEA-PHAGES colleges and universities were chosen through a competitive application process. They will start offering the course in the Fall of 2013. Faculty have attended training sessions for the Fall 2013 term that allow them to implement this research experience in laboratory classes on their campuses. In December, they will attend training sessions for the Spring bioinformatics term. Next year, students and faculty of the Alliance will come together to present and share their research advances at the 2014 National SEA-PHAGES Symposium.
The newly-selected participants in the SEA-PHAGES program are: