STC Students to Join the Nationwide Phage Hunters Research Program
This fall will be a landmark semester for the Biology program and its DEMSA students at South Texas College.
Impactful, high-quality undergraduate research opportunities often are few and far between even at well funded four-year institutions with strong research traditions. And yet STC — a two-year college serving a predominantly minority Hispanic population that includes many students who are the first in their family to pursue higher education — is doing just that.
Through a program known as SEA-PHAGES, STC is rising to the challenge and offering authentic, valuable, accessible undergraduate research opportunities designed to foster scientific inquiry and discovery among a relatively large cohort of 24 students.
The Science Education Association-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomic and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) is a program established by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and comprising a nationwide collaboration of 177 institutions that enlists students to help discover new bacteriophage species. Bacteriophages are a very diverse group of viruses that specifically attack bacteria. Given that bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics very quickly, bacteriophages’ natural tendency to mount lethal attacks on bacteria holds great promise for use in fighting resilient infectious diseases.
“The most ingenious aspect of this program is that it offers an opportunity to first-year undergraduate students to learn biology through practicing and experiencing the scientific methodology that may result in new discoveries."
Featured on the “SEA-PHAGES in the News” section of the SEA-PHAGES website, many news stories describe the journeys of the participating students over the course of the 11 years since the program’s inception, highlighting their profound experiences in the pursuit of scientific discovery.
One such story is that of Jade Connor, who joined the SEA-PHAGES program at Baylor University. Connor, a senior biology major from Lewisville, Texas, interested in pre-med, was among 24 applicants selected prior to the start of their freshman year2.
“In high school, I wanted to be a journalist. I took AP Biology during my senior year because I wanted to get science out of the way,” Connor said. She explained that after watching a documentary in that same biology class about cracking your personal genetic code, she was shocked and inspired –– forever changing her career path.
In the SEA-PHAGES program, Connor’s interest in research was given space to blossom. She now serves as president of Baylor Undergraduate Research in Science & Technology (BURST), an organization for students interested in scientific research.
“The most ingenious aspect of this program is that it offers an opportunity to first-year undergraduate students to learn biology through practicing and experiencing the scientific methodology that may result in new discoveries,” said Dr. Mehrzad Mahmoudian-Geller, one of the Biology program faculty at South Texas College who is a member of the college’s SEA-PHAGES team. “As a faculty member of a two-year biology program, participating in a nationwide effort that can contribute to the body of knowledge used to treat antibiotic-resistant infectious diseases is an extraordinary opportunity beyond our wildest dreams.”