Bachelor of Natural Sciences student Ezra Mautner checking samples for bacteriophages.

NZ students join prestigious international genome project

Watch a video of Dr Hendrickson

Dr Heather Hendrickson (right) with some of her phage hunters:
Tara Dalefield (left), Jacob Lawes, Jess Fitch, Kirtana Kumar,
Eli Christian.

A bacteriophage named ‘Fabio’ under a Transmission Electron Microscope.

Undergraduate students at Massey University are being given the opportunity to contribute to an international genome sequencing project – one that could eventually remedy the problem of antibiotic resistance.

Massey students will be the first international collaborators on this prestigious project, which is run by the Science Education Alliance (SEA) out of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in Maryland, USA.

The Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (PHAGES) program focuses on finding new bacteriophages – a form of virus that target and destroy only specific strains of bacteria. Because of their specificity, they have the potential to be used as an alternative to antibiotics as they do not affect the body’s own supply of helpful bacteria.

Students will be isolating, naming and sequencing a newly discovered bacteriophage to reveal its genetic makeup, all while also learning the skills needed to work in the field of microbiology. Along with more standard assignments, the class will also participate in blogging about their experiences in the Phage Hunt NZ Blog which will allow them to practice their science communication skills.

At the end of the paper the top student will have the opportunity to travel to the United States to present the classes findings at the PHAGES symposium alongside other students from around the United States.

Dr Heather Hendrickson, a senior lecturer in molecular biosciences, is leading the program and says this is an invaluable experience for students, which sets them up to make some exciting discoveries in the future.

“Discovery and study of new bacteriophages in this program will give students an opportunity to learn about how bacteriophages, like the ones they are discovering, can contribute to medicine and health in the future. In a world where DNA sequencing is getting cheaper, the program also provides students with practical skills they can use.”

“This is an exciting beginning and we are thrilled to be welcomed into this dynamic program.”

The HHMI SEA PHAGES program is being incorporated into the Bachelors of Natural Science at Massey at Albany. Students from other programs are more than welcome to join the paper. The Phage Hunt will be taught as a Bachelor of Natural Sciences special topic course this year as paper 246.301. Students interested in enrolling for the paper should contact Heather Hendrickson directly.

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