Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Georgia State to Participate in Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Program

Georgia State University has been chosen to join an innovative science education program, the Science Education Alliance (SEA), headed by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).

“The HHMI has developed a remarkable program that gives incoming freshmen the opportunity to conduct scientific research at a level that would normally not be encountered until a student was well into graduate school,” said Barbara Baumstark, a biology professor who, along with Casonya Johnson and Malcolm Zellars, was responsible for submitting Georgia State’s application to the Alliance.

“Through this program, students will be able to experience the thrill of discovery, of being the first person in the world to learn something completely new.”

As a part of the SEA’s National Genomics Research Initiative, Georgia State will offer in fall 2009 a two-part, year-long research course. The research course is aimed at beginning college students, who make discoveries by performing research on bacterial viruses called phage.

Given the diversity of phage, each one is almost certain to be unique, so the students will have the unique experience of working with a newly identified life form. They will then spend the rest of the term purifying and characterizing their phage and extracting its DNA.

Between terms, the purified DNA will be sent to the Joint Genome Institute-Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where it will be sequenced. In the second term, the students will receive files containing their phage’s DNA sequence. The students will then use bioinformatics tools to analyze and annotate the DNA from their phage.

HHMI will provide research and laboratory materials, and Johnson and Zellars will attend training sessions that will allow them to implement this research experience in laboratory classes on their campuses.

Georgia State has been selected as part of the second group of the project. The first 12 colleges and universities were chosen to participate in the SEA in 2007, and began offering the course in fall 2008.

The university has worked hard to enhance science education from K-12 through the college years. In 2006, the Departments of Biology and Chemistry received a four-year, $1.5M grant from the HHMI’s Division of Undergraduate Education to develop an undergraduate program in biotechnology.

Recently, the National Institutes of Health awarded Georgia State with a three-year, $760,000 to help educate Georgia’s K-12 students about DNA and genetic principles through the university's successful Bio-Bus program.

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