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Phage hunting students publish in PLoS ONE

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Recently a research paper titled "Expanding the Diversity of Mycobacteriophages: Insights into Genome Architecture and Evolution" was published in PLoS ONE, a peer-reviewed online journal published by the Public Library of Science. The authors included 12 Washington University undergraduates who had participated as freshman in the inaugural Phage Hunters course at Washington University in St. Louis.

Phages are viruses that infect bacteria by injecting genetic material into them with a syringe-like plunger. In fact, they even look rather like outlandish syringes.

Phage Hunters is a freshman focus course the biology department first offered in 2008. The course, which is supported by the Science Education Alliance at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, offers freshmen a research experience, isolating and characterizing novel phages.

Starting in the fall semester, students collect soil samples, and isolate phages from the soil. Once isolated, students purify and characterize the phage. Nearly all the phages isolated in this way are new to science.

Over winter break the DNA genomes of several phages are sequenced, and in the spring semester students analyze the sequence information to get an in-depth picture of how their phage works and relates genetically to other previously characterized phages.

 
 

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