Twenty Carnegie Mellon first-year students will soon be among the first to take part in a new nationwide course that offers opportunities to conduct genomics research — which is the study of all genes in an organism. The opportunity is made possible through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
HHMI selected Carnegie Mellon's department of biological sciences to be a part of the Phage Genomics Research Initiative — the first major initiative from HHMI's Science Education Alliance (SEA).
"Over the years, HHMI has provided Carnegie Mellon with extensive and invaluable support for both our faculty and students," said Elizabeth Jones, Dr. Frederick A. Schwertz Distinguished Professor and head of the department of biological sciences. "Being selected to participate in the SEA program, and help them in their first attempt to directly impact science education is truly an exciting endeavor."
The course will teach students how to approach science problems creatively while encouraging them to pursue further study and careers in science. The research will center on bacteriophages — rapidly evolving viruses that infect bacteria.
Phages are found naturally anywhere bacteria live, including water sources and the soil. Students will isolate bacteriophages from local soil samples, clone and sequence their DNA and compare their genomes with those of bacteriophages obtained from other SEA-participating institutions.
Biological sciences faculty Jonathan Jarvik and Javier Lopez will lead the course.
Ideally, the work of the SEA students will result in the complete genome characterization of at least 12 new bacteriophages each year. The findings will be published in scientific journals, with the students listed as co-authors.
According to HHMI, studies have shown that students rank undergraduate research experience as the most important factor in deciding whether or not to pursue graduate studies or a career in science.
As most undergraduate research is done later in a student's academic career, the SEA program hopes to catch students early and make their research experience influential in choosing a major.