Phage genomics research in biology laboratory classrooms
The Biology department at Gonzaga is convinced that you learn science best by doing science. Doing science means investigating a question or a problem and finding an answer that makes a new, intellectual contribution to the field. In other words, what you find is important to better understanding nature.
Why in lab classes?
It is true that you can apply to do independent research in professor's labs, and that many upper-division lab courses do research. Many opportunities await you as you become an advanced college student. But why wait? At Gonzaga, you will start doing research the first week of freshman year in the introductory biology lab: phage genomics research.
What is phage genomics?
Bacteriophages (phages for short) are viruses that infect and grow in bacteria. They
are the most numerous life form on the planet, estimated at 10^31. This is a million times more than the number of stars in the observable universe! We know relatively little about these viruses. For example, how many different kinds of phages are there? How many different kinds of genes do they carry? How do they affect the biosphere? How do they evolve? One way to study phages today is to discover new ones and sequence their DNA. This is called genomics. So phage genomics is studying the DNA genomes of phages. Gonzaga is participating in a nation-wide research project to discover and study the diversity of bacteriophages that can be found in the environment. The project is called SEA-PHAGES (Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science) and we are part of the Science Education Alliance (SEA) of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Phage Discovery Lab
The first course you'll take is the Phage Discovery Lab, which is the lab associated with the introductory biology course, BIOL 105. Here, you will discover your own phage from a soil sample, purify it, grow it up, examine it with an electron microscope, and extract and characterize its DNA. You will name you phage and it will be archived at the end of the semester for future study.
Phage Genomics Lab
When you take the Genetics lab, BIOL 207L, you will continue studying your phage. You will use DNA cloning techniques to clone and sequence a fragment of DNA from your phage genome. Sequence analysis may help you discover which other phages are closely related to your own. And, as a research group, you will learn computational bioinformatic methods and use them to analyze the full genome sequence of a novel phage that was discovered at Gonzaga. At the end, the research group will submit the annotated genome to the public genome database GenBank at NCBI.
Your name will be on the author list of scientists who have contributed the sequence for the rest of the scientific world to study. (See the genome of the phage GUmbie at NCBI, for an example of a GU phage.)
Phage genomics research integrated into the biology curriculum is supported by a National Science Foundation TUES grant, and the Science Education Alliance of HHMI.
Read more about it.
- Gonzaga Bulletin News: Grant helps launch biological research
- Gonzaga Bulletin News: Discovery-Bound
- Gonzaga to Join Major National Science Education Effort
Student experiences in Phage Courses at other colleges