Navigation Links
Phage hunting students publish in PLoS ONE

Recently a research paper titled "Expanding the Diversity of Mycobacteriophages: Insights into Genome Architecture and Evolution" was published in PLoS ONE, a peer-reviewed online journal published by the Public Library of Science.

The authors included 12 Washington University undergraduates who had participated as freshman in the inaugural Phage Hunters course at Washington University in St. Louis.

Phages are viruses that infect bacteria by injecting genetic material into them with a syringe-like plunger. In fact, they even look rather like outlandish syringes.

Phage Hunting

Phage Hunters is a freshman focus course the biology department first offered in 2008. The course, which is supported by the Science Education Alliance at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, offers freshmen a research experience, isolating and characterizing novel phages.

Starting in the fall semester, students collect soil samples, and isolate phages from the soil. Once isolated, students purify and characterize the phage. Nearly all the phages isolated in this way are new to science.

Over winter break the DNA genomes of several phages are sequenced, and in the spring semester students analyze the sequence information to get an in-depth picture of how their phage works and relates genetically to other previously characterized phages.

"A critical part of science education is helping students learn to 'think like a scientist,' said Sarah C. Elgin, PhD, the Viktor Hamburger Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences, who taught the class. "This course requires students to do just that, giving them new analytical skills and a new perspective. Plus, they have a lot of ownership of the project it is their phage something that no one else has studied. Discovery is a real thrill!."

More on Phages

Phage are the most numerous "biological entities" in the world (they have to be called entities because no one is quite sure whether they are alive in any practical sense). There are thought to be 1031 virus particles floating about,and 1023 phage infections a second.

Most specialize in infecting a particular species of bacteria. For the class the host bacterium was Mycobacterium smegmatis, which is related to the bacteria that cause leprosy and tuberculosis, but does not itself cause disease.

Because it is a fast grower, M. smegmatis has become a laboratory workhorse.

About 70 phages that prey on mycobacteria have been previously described. The authors of the PloS ONE paper, who were then freshmen at 12 colleges and universities, reported the isolation, sequencing, and annotation (labeling parts of the genome whose function is known) of 18 new ones.

Angelica and Uncle Howie

The new mycobacteriaphages included two found by the WUSTL students. One, named Angelica, was isolated from soil in Clayton, Mo. The other, called Uncle Howie, was isolated from soil in University City, Mo. Both Clayton and University City are suburbs of St. Louis.

(The students have "naming rights" for the phage they isolate. Consequently, other phage also have amusing names, including Corndog, Fruitloop, Tweety, Predator and Gumball. )

Most of the new phages, including the two St. Louis ones, had what is called siphoviral morphologieslong flexible non-contractile tails, and isometric icosahedral heads.

Once the students had sequenced the phages, they set out to compare their genomes to those of other phages. Bacteriophage genomes are mosaics or assemblages of modules, each of which corresponds to a gene or group of genes.

Since the phages are thought to have evolved by the exchange of these modules, comparing phages can provide clues to their evolutionary history.

The mycobacteriophages seem to fall into nine major clusters, with a few leftovers, or singletons, with no close relatives. Angelica, the Clayton phage, fell into cluster K and Uncle Howie, the University City phage in cluster B.

There has been considerable speculation about the mechanisms that give rise to the mosaic genomes and the work also provided some insight into this problem. The clusters of phages indicate lateral transfer of genes or DNA fragments from one phage to another, as well as inheritance by descent.

The WUSTL student authors are: Samantha T. Alford, Alexander G. Anderson, William D. Barshop, Lisa Deng, Vincent J. Huang, Peter M. Hynes, Patrick C. Ng, , Hannah Rabinowitz, Corwin Rhyan, Erika F. Sims, Emilie G. Weisser, and Bo Zhang.

In addition, the graduate student teaching assistant, Anthony Tubbs, and instructors Elgin, Kathy Hafer, Chris Shaffer are co-authors on the paper.

"It is very rewarding to see students so engaged in the work we do in the Phage Hunters course," says Hafer, PhD, senior lecturer in biology. "Many really blossom as they gain confidence in their biology knowledge and research ability. And publication validates their membership in the science community."


Contact: Diana Lutz
Washington University in St. Louis

Related biology news :

1. H. Pylori bacteria may help prevent some esophageal cancers
2. Genetic predictors of esophageal cancer identified
3. New study overturns orthodoxy on how macrophages kill bacteria
4. University of Saskatchewan and Canadian Synchrotron researchers shed light on esophageal disease
5. Macrophages: The defense cells that help throughout the body
6. Researchers describe first functioning lipidome of mouse macrophage
7. Effect of 6 mT SMF on phagocytosis depends on macrophage differentiation degree
8. Esophageal cancer risk lower than expected for patients with GERD
9. Pitt researchers describe molecular 2-step leading to protein clumps of Huntingtons disease
10. New therapeutic strategy could target toxic protein in most patients with Huntingtons disease
11. Small molecules might block mutant protein production in Huntingtons disease
Post Your Comments:
(Date:3/31/2016)... R.I. , March 31, 2016  Genomics firm ... of founding CEO, Barrett Bready , M.D., who ... members of the original technical leadership team, including Chief ... President of Product Development, Steve Nurnberg and Vice President ... returned to the company. Dr. Bready served ...
(Date:3/23/2016)... 2016 Einzigartige ... und Stimmerkennung mit Passwörtern     ... MESG ), ein führender Anbieter digitaler Kommunikationsdienste, ... SpeechPro zusammenarbeitet, um erstmals dessen Biometrietechnologie einzusetzen. ... Möglichkeit angeboten, im Rahmen mobiler Apps neben ...
(Date:3/22/2016)... Ontario , PROVO and ... Newborn Screening Ontario (NSO), which operates the ... for molecular testing, and Tute Genomics and UNIConnect, ... management technology respectively, today announced the launch of a ... next-generation sequencing (NGS) testing panel. NSO ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/23/2016)... , June 23, 2016  Blueprint Bio, a ... discoveries to the medical community, has closed its Series ... Matthew Nunez . "We have received a ... the capital we need to meet our current goals," ... provide us the runway to complete validation on the ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... On Wednesday, June 22, 2016, the ... the Dow Jones Industrial Average edged 0.27% lower to finish ... 0.17%. has initiated coverage on the following equities: Infinity ... NKTR ), Aralez Pharmaceuticals Inc. (NASDAQ: ... ). Learn more about these stocks by accessing their free ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... Prairie, WI (PRWEB) , ... June 23, 2016 ... ... consultancy focused on quality, regulatory and technical consulting, provides a free webinar ... is presented on July 13, 2016 at 12pm CT at no charge. , ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... 2016  Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN ) today ... life sciences incubator to accelerate the development of ... space at QB3@953 was created to help high-potential life ... many early stage organizations - access to laboratory infrastructure. ... launched two "Amgen Golden Ticket" awards, providing each winner ...
Breaking Biology Technology: