C-SC is in its first year as a full member of the National Genomics Research Initiative sponsored by Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science Education Alliance. The Genomics Research Initiative allows freshman students to collect and isolate colonies of bacterial viruses, or phage, from local soil samples. Phage are viruses that attack bacteria. The collected phage samples are then purified, identified and analyzed with annotation of their DNA sequence. The goal is to find new phage which could eventually be used to advance medical science in its efforts to combat bacterial infections.
“These students are doing the type of research that I didn’t start doing until I was in graduate school,” explains Dr. Indiren Pillay, associate professor of biology and chairman of the natural and mathematical science division.
Pillay along with Dr. Wei Li, assistant professor of biology, provide oversight for the two semester “Phage Genomics Research” courses offered by C-SC.
The courses give students the opportunity to take part in authentic research, and they teach critical and collaborative thinking skills. “I’d like to see every student take this class because it’s empowering. Dr. Li and I provide oversight more than instruction,” Pillay adds, calling the class the ultimate experiential opportunity for students.
“This is something I didn’t get the opportunity to do in high school. I’ve learned a lot about bacterial viruses and research,” says Shelby Sutter ’14, nursing major from Taylor, Mo. “It’s an honor to be involved in this class, and anytime you’re given this type of opportunity you should take it,” adds Sutter.
Students must apply and be selected to take part in the courses. Pre-requisites include a minimum ACT score of 23, a high GPA and the student must exhibit a strong interest in hands-on research to be accepted.
Culver-Stockton College originally became involved with the Genomics Research Initiative in 2009, when the college was selected to participate in the program as an associate member.
Now, in its first year as a full partner, C-SC is able to recruit more students. There are now 14 students enrolled, up from 10 last year, and Pillay would like to add four additional spots in the coming year to accommodate growing interest in the program.
“We are actually getting students who are coming to Culver-Stockton because of this program,” explains Pillay, “this is becoming the deal maker, the decision point and that’s exciting.”
Bruce Green ’14, biology major from Rogersville, Mo., is one of those students. “I was deciding between Culver-Stockton and another school. Here, there are greater opportunities for me to do undergraduate research and that’s what it came down to,” explains Green. “Now, I talk to my friends who went to other schools, and they’re not doing anything like this. It's a type of complete thinking and research that I’ve never done before,” adds Green.
Anne Showalter ’14, biological chemistry major from Springfield, Ill., was also intrigued by the genomic initiative while researching colleges. “I heard about the genomics program when I started researching Culver-Stockton. It just looked really interesting, really unique because I’ve never done research before. I really enjoy learning lab techniques and about phage, this is my favorite class,” explains Showalter.
Culver-Stockton is one of just 16 schools across the country selected to be a full partner in the Genomics Research Initiative in 2010; C-SC is also the smallest college to be selected to take part. The data collected from phage samples is shared with other participating schools and the program sponsor, Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
“This is an incredible opportunity for our students, there is nothing more experiential than what they’re doing,” adds Pillay.
For more information on the Genomics Research Initiative, log on to www.culver.edu/nams/phage.
Photos: Bruce Green '14, biology major from Rogersville, Mo., completes lab work during his "Phage Genomics Research" course.
Dr. Wei Li helps Anne Showalter '14, biological chemistry major from Springfield, Ill., and Shelby Sutter '14, nursing major from Taylor, Mo., with lab work.
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