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USciences Adds New Undergraduate Research Opportunities with SEA-GENES Program

By Jenna Pizzi

Published on February 3, 2020

SEA-PHAGESBeginning in the fall of 2020, USciences students will have access to a new course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE), SEA-GENES. This course will allow students to conduct experiments in order to determine the functions of viral genes. SEA-GENES (Science Education Alliance - Gene-function Exploration by a Network of Emerging Scientists) is a mid-level research project for students who have completed SEA-PHAGES(Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science) in their first year. 

Both programs are offered by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science Education Alliance. USciences was chosen as one of eight institutions in the U.S. to participate in this second cohort of GENES.

“The addition of SEA-GENES allows us to offer more research-based courses to students and gives our students the ability to continue the research they began in the PHAGES program,” said Michelle Kanther, PhD, assistant professor of biological sciences and primary faculty for the program. “In these courses, students learn by doing and are able to engage more with the material than compared to a traditional course.”

The course allows the students to continue to study bacterial phage biology, viruses extracted from soil samples. In the GENES project, students generate expression libraries of phage genes, test for the ability of phage gene products to modulate bacterial host phenotypes, and screen phage gene products against the bacterial host proteome to identify putative host targets.

“In PHAGES, students only know the function of about 40 percent of the genes that make up their phage, so GENES will give them the opportunity to use biotechnology and molecular technology tools to figure out the function of more of the genes,” said Dr. Kanther.

“SEA-GENES builds on the skills that students already have from SEA-PHAGES and makes them better scientists in general,” said Nicole Sunnen, PhD, assistant professor of biological sciences and SEA-PHAGES program coordinator. “Whether they are pursuing medicine or research they are able to see something through and learn that research is never really finished.” 

In addition to research skills, the SEA-GENES students will get an opportunity to attend the annual SEA Symposium to discuss and present their discoveries and hear from other students doing similar work. 

Through this experience, students learn and apply critical thinking skills, are introduced to new scientific skills and techniques, and have the opportunity for professional development.

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