RADNOR, Pa. (Jan. 9, 2009) — During the 2009-10 academic year, students at Cabrini will research bacterial viruses and DNA sequencing with one of the largest research organizations in the country, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
Cabrini College is one of 12 colleges and universities nationwide accepted into the 2009 HHMI Science Education Alliance (SEA). As part of the SEA National Genomics Research Initiative, Dr. David Dunbar, associate professor of biology, and Dr. Melinda Harrison, assistant professor of chemistry, will develop an honors biology course built around a national experiment in bacteriophage genomics (a bacteriophage, or phage, is a virus that infects bacteria).
"The three-year initiative gives undergraduate students early exposure to real scientific research, troubleshooting and discovery in real-time," said Drs. Dunbar and Harrison. "The two-semester phage genomics course draws on techniques in several aspects of biology, including microbiology, molecular biology, and bioinformatics (the application of information technology to molecular biology)." The course will be offered over the next three academic years.
The SEA allows faculty to work together to deliver innovative science education programs and bring the excitement of doing science directly to students in a novel, collaborative way. The Institute has committed four million dollars over four years to the SEA.
Next fall, students will isolate and purify bacteriophages from local soil and characterize them using a variety of techniques, including microscopy and DNA analysis. During winter break, the class will send purified bacteiophage DNA to the Joint Genome Institute for sequencing. In the spring semester, students will download the genome sequence and use bioinformatics tools to annotate it. At the end of the spring semester next year, Drs. Dunbar and Harrison and a student will report their discoveries at HHMI's research symposium, and any unique phages characterized by Cabrini students will be published for the scientific community.
"When you visit these schools, you can see that institutional transformation is occurring," says Tuajuanda Jordan, director of the SEA program at HHMI. "We have given these educators ammunition to show their colleagues that research courses are a viable way to engage students and possibly retain them in the sciences."
The HHMI Science Education Alliance began in 2008-09 with 12 colleges; the alliance plans to add 12 additional colleges for the 2010-11 academic year, for a total of 36. Cabrini is one of three schools in Pennsylvania chosen to participate, joining Lehigh and St. Joseph's universities; Carnegie Mellon University was selected in 2007-08. The HHMI provides initial course planning and development, training of faculty and teaching assistants, reagents and essential equipment that may be unavailable to the colleges.