NEW ORLEANS, LA - Xavier University of Louisiana is one of twelve schools and the only HBCU to be named a 2011member of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s (HHMI) Science Education Alliance. Fourteen others will join as associate members.
“The department of Biology at Xavier is very excited about being awarded a full membership to the Science Education Alliance of the HHMI and as a member of Cohort IV, is looking forward to participating in the inquiry-based teaching initiatives,” said Shuba Kale Ireland, biology professor and chair of the department.
Xavier and the other schools will begin offering an innovative course from HHMI’s Science Education Alliance (SEA) that will give students hands on research experience in an elective course.
“This will be a small group of students doing very hands-on, intensive research,” said Dr. Joseph Ross, associate professor of biology at Xavier and one of the program coordinators.
“This is a direction we have been wanting to move some of our courses to for a while," he said. "It is a very effective technique to immerse students in research. We have of course done hands on before but nothing like this. This course will give them tools to enable them to do better in other science course work as well.”
While some participating schools offer the course as a substitute for their introductory biology laboratory, at Xavier the course will be an elective Biology majors must choose 15 hours of biology electives in their program. In the first term, the students isolate phages (a group of viruses that infect specific bacteria) from locally collected soil. Given the diversity of phages, each one is almost certain to be unique, and the students get to name their newly identified life form. They spend the rest of the term purifying and characterizing their phage and extracting its DNA.
Between terms, the DNA samples are sequenced at one of several research centers across the country. In the second half of the course, the students receive digital files containing their phage’s DNA sequence. The students then learn to use bioinformatics tools to analyze and annotate the genomes.
The 12 schools joining the SEA were chosen through a competitive application process. They will offer the course beginning in Fall 2011.
HHMI provides training, research, and laboratory materials, as well as support from HHMI staff. HHMI created the SEA in 2007 to develop resources that enable undergraduate science educators to present innovative courses and programs. Since then, participating faculty have worked together to roll out the course and bring the excitement of experimental research to students in a novel, collaborative way.
The National Genomics Research Initiative is the alliance’s first program, and HHMI has committed $4 million to the course. With these new schools, the course is now being taught in 29 states and Puerto Rico. “I feel like the tide is continuing to roll, that the SEA is really branching out,” said the SEA’s director, Tuajuanda Jordan.