STC students in the SEA-PHAGES program discover novel Microbacterium Phage
Biology major students of The Science Education Association-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomic and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) program at STC are achieving exceptional success in their quest to discover bacteriophages. As a part of the 12th cohort of the program, STC becomes one of the two institutions selected from Texas for the year 2019 -2020.
The program is divided into a two-semester course in which students hunt for bacteriophage in their first semester. A bacteriophage is a type of virus that infects bacteria. By the end of the first-semester student not only have to isolate bacteriophage from the environmental soil samples but also must purify and submit for electron microscopy imaging and submit DNA for archiving and sequencing. After isolating their phage, students have the privilege of naming it. Then, the same student cohort moves to the next semester and carries out gene annotation. Gene annotation is a process where the gene is analyzed for their start and stop codons, and protein function.
Amazingly, the first batch of 14 students in this course achieved the success that is totally unheard of in this program. Generally, 1 to 2 purified viruses are isolated for first-timers in the program. Our students were able to obtain not 2 but 12 bacteriophages of bacterial host Microbacterium foliorum B-24224 SEA!
Also, it came as a pleasant surprise when we heard from the program director of the SEA-PHAGES program that Microbacterium Phage “Delagarza” is a singleton Phage and that is relatively new as not much is known about the characteristics of the genome of singleton phages. “Delagarza” phage was named by Daniela De La Garza in honor of her father.
Several studies have recognized the importance of research experience during undergrad education. Students with research experience have a higher chance of achieving academic success, learn to work in a team and acquire skills necessary to go into graduate school. Under the guidance and mentorship of Dr. Thomas Ndolo, SEA-PHAGES students have transformed from mere high school students to scientists. The skill and experience they are getting in this program will help them achieve unprecedented academic and career success in the future. These students are also on their way to publish in prestigious journals reporting the discovery of new phages.