A new course at the University of Florida will give students an opportunity to research bacterial viruses called phage, as seen in this artistic rendering.

Above: A new course at the University of Florida will give students an opportunity to research bacterial viruses called phage, as seen in this artistic rendering.

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More Hands in the Dirt

UF Offers Year-Long Phage Genomics Course

Starting this fall, University of Florida undergrads will join almost 1,700 students from 40 colleges and universities discovering organisms hidden under their very feet.

As part of an innovative course from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science Education Alliance (SEA), UF freshmen will conduct research focused on bacterial viruses, called phages, which infect Mycobacterium smegmatis, a relative of the bacteria that cause tuberculosis and leprosy.

Students in the year-long Phage Genomics course will be able to isolate and name a new species of soil bacteriophage, analyze its appearance and genetic code, and contribute all of this information to a national database.

Since 2008, SEA students have isolated at least 1,400 phages, and analyzed the DNA sequence of almost 100 different phages. Specific types of phage were instrumental for pioneering experiments in genetics and molecular biology.

“This experience makes excellent students that much more excited,” says Sean B. Carroll, HHMI’s vice president for science education, “and it makes students who weren’t sure about their degree of interest in the life sciences a lot more engaged.”

UF's program is unique among the other SEA programs in that both science and non-science majors will work on research teams. Students for the course will be recruited from the Florida Opportunity Scholars Program, which provides resources to first-generation students from low income families to help them succeed academically. Working in the HHMI Undergraduate Core Laboratory in the new Biomedical Sciences Building, students will be immersed in a cross-disciplinary environment where they can take courses in chemistry, physics and biology that emphasize biomedical research applications.

“We hope that the new SEA course, along with the existing UF-HHMI Science for Life Program courses and other innovative science courses at UF, will lead UF into the future of science education,” said David Julian, Associate Chair of the Department of Biology.

“The participation of all students in authentic, cutting-edge research will be the benchmark of a high quality curriculum at a top university,” Julian continued.

Credits

Writer

Jeff Stevens, Communications and Outreach

Sources

David Julian, djulian@ufl.edu
Edward Louis Brawn, ebraun68@ufl.edu
Cindy Fox Aisen, Office of Communications, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Photo

Michael David Jones, Wikipedia
Garth Hogan, MicrobeWorld

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