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March 25, 2011

ULM biology students published in national peer-reviewed journal

The University of Louisiana at Monroe, one of the first 12 schools in the country to participate in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute-funded Science Education Alliance National Genomics Research Initiative, provided ULM freshman biology majors the chance for hands-on research of bacterial viruses called phages.

The year-long initiative celebrated a major milestone recently when the results of their research were published in an open access, peer-reviewed journal PLoS One.

The 192-author journal article is titled, "Expanding the diversity of Mycobacteriophages: Insights into genome architecture and evolution," and offers a look at the genetic diversity of phages uncovered by students who took the course.

The ULM phage, Mycobacteriophage sp. Peaches, was among the newly described phages discovered by member schools that led to the subsequent reorganization of the A cluster group.

The Science Education Alliance serves as a national resource for undergraduate science education through the development, implementation, evaluation, and dissemination of new teaching approaches to broaden scientific understanding and participation.

The SEA course has shown that students learn science best by doing authentic research and are more likely to stay in science after being involved in research early.

Surveys of SEA participants indicate that 89 percent of students still pursue science majors a year after taking the course, compared to only about 55 percent of freshman who pursue science after having participated in traditional laboratory courses.

In addition, the project helps students understand that science is collaborative, rather than solitary.

Each year, the course ends with a scientific symposium at HHMI's Janelia Farm Research Campus in Ashburn, Va., where students present their work to faculty and fellow students.

"Doing this project has provided me with a unique opportunity to develop a real understanding of the research process in biology," said ULM Junior John Robert Warner of Oak Grove, one of the student authors contributing to the report.

Other ULM student authors included Jeremy Harmson, a master of science in biology candidate from Pineville; Gina Hogan, a junior from Jonesboro; Ericka Hufford, a junior from Wisner; and Brandon Morgan, a junior from Pineville.

Both Morgan and Warner have continued to work on follow up projects associated with the phage laboratory.

"This project is like a jump start to our careers. How many 20-year olds can say they have their name attached to a published paper in the field of biology?" said Morgan.

The ULM freshman phage genomics laboratory course is co-directed by Drs. Ann Findley and Chris Gissendanner. Jeremy Harmson, a master of science graduate student at ULM, has served as the teaching assistant for the laboratory for the last three years.

To review the paper, visit:

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