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 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
|Contact: Diana Lutz|
Washington University in St. Louis