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UMM Students to Participate in Nationwide Genomics Research

Added on: February 14, 2011
UMM - Science

MACHIAS, Maine – First-year students at the University of Maine at Machias will soon have the opportunity to search for undiscovered organisms in the dirt, thanks to an innovative genomics course funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

UMM has been selected to participate in the prestigious National Genomics Research Initiative, a year-long course that enables students to conduct genomic research on soil-dwelling bacterial viruses called phage. The initiative is part of the Science Education Alliance (SEA), a national program of HHMI that seeks to develop resources for undergraduate science educators to present innovative courses and programs.

In the first semester, the students will isolate phage from locally collected soil. Given the diversity of phage, each one is almost certain to be unique, and the students will get to name their newly identified life form. They spend the rest of the term purifying and characterizing their phage and extracting its DNA.

Between semesters, the complete genome of their phage will be sequenced at one of several research centers across the country. In the second half of the course, the students receive digital files containing their phage’s DNA sequence. The students then learn to use bioinformatics tools to analyze and annotate the genomes.

Ellen Hostert, associate professor of biology, called the program a tremendous opportunity for UMM students. “We are getting students excited and into science from the moment they step foot on campus. Their research will have a far-reaching and global impact.”

UMM’s participation in the program will be guided by Hostert; Shallee Page, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry; Sherrie Sprangers, associate professor of biology; and Gerry Zegers, assistant professor of biology.

UMM is among just 26 schools, chosen through a competitive application process, joining the SEA this year as either full or associate members. The University of Maine, University of Maine at Fort Kent, and Southern Maine Community College, were also selected as associate members in this year’s class.

As an associate member, UMM will receive partial funding for the initiative from HHMI and access to online resources. For full members, the project is fully funded by HHMI.

The National Genomics Research Initiative is the alliance’s first program, and HHMI has committed $4 million to the course. With the addition of this year’s group of colleges and universities, the course will be taught in 29 states and Puerto Rico.

The opportunity to apply for membership in the SEA was offered to Maine institutions participating in the IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE), a state-wide coalition funded by the National Center for Research Resources at the National Institutes of Health. The goal of the INBRE program is to enhance research capacity and competitiveness in Maine by expanding student training opportunities, supporting infrastructure improvements, and funding scientific research.


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