Nicholls Biology Students to Hunt for Viruses in New Research Program

THIBODAUX, La. — Beginning this Fall, Nicholls State University biology and chemistry students will spend the next year digging through the dirt looking for viruses after the university was selected to participate in a national undergraduate research program.

Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science, or SEA-PHAGES, is a national, two-semester, discovery-based undergraduate research course that begins with digging in the soil to find new viruses, then progresses through a variety of microbiology techniques and eventually to complex genome annotation and bioinformatic analyses. A phage is a virus that preys on and feeds off bacteria. They are found, among other places, in the soil.

“Offering this research-based course provides us with the opportunity to revolutionize the way we teach biology at Nicholls,” says Christie Landry, assistant professor of biological sciences. “Our students will have the opportunity to collaborate and publish their work alongside scientists and peers from all over the country.”

Eligible students must be at least a sophomore by Fall 2019 and have completed the biology foundation courses. Informational sessions will be held later in the semester.

The program aims to increase undergraduate interest and retention in biological sciences through immersion in authentic, valuable, yet accessible research.

The course was first offered in 2008, and since that time SEA-PHAGES students have isolated and archived more than 4,000 mycobacteriophages, sequenced more than 460 complete genomes and submitted over 180 annotations to GenBank. Seventeen peer-reviewed publications have come out of the program, at least six of which have included undergraduate authors.

SEA-PHAGES is jointly administered by Graham Hatfull’s group at the University of Pittsburgh and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science Education division and is supported by HHMI.


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