Baylor University Chosen To Participate In National Science Education Experiment

December 17, 2009

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Baylor University has been chosen by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to join the Science Education Alliance, which will engage Baylor students in scientific discovery on a national scale.

The alliance means Baylor students will be offered an opportunity to be involved in scientific discovery during their first year while taking their freshmen sequence of biology. The course will be taught under the new sequence of courses BIO 1405 and BIO 1406.

"This new alliance will allow us to work collaboratively with faculty from all over the country and utilize tried and true methods that are known to work in relatively large groups of freshman science students," said Dr. Tamarah Adair, senior lecturer of biology at Baylor, who will be overseeing the program at the university. "This is a great opportunity for Baylor to become more active in curriculum development and involved with undergraduate research groups on the national level. This is something very different than anything we are currently doing in the department of biology in content and in scope."

The Science Education Alliance is a two-part, year-long course that enables students to make real discoveries by conducting research on bacterial viruses called phage. In the first term, Baylor students will isolate phage from locally collected environmental samples. Given the diversity of these viruses, each one is almost certain to be unique, so the students get to name their newly identified life form. They then spend the rest of the term purifying and characterizing their phage and extracting its DNA. Between terms, the purified DNA is sent to the Joint Genome Institute-Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, where it is sequenced. In the second term, the students receive files containing their isolated phage's DNA sequence. The students then use bioinformatics tools to analyze and annotate the genomes from their phage.

Adair said she will solicit applications from approximately 500 incoming Baylor freshman students from all majors who plan to enroll in introductory biology classes. Twenty students will be selected based on responses to the questions in the application. Criteria will include: initiative, interest in genomic research, willingness to work with others as a team, enthusiasm, curiosity and excellent written communication skills. Adair said the goal is to select students with diverse interests related to genomics, such as ecology, evolution, microbiology, biomedical sciences, and cell and developmental biology.

Currently, 24 large universities and small colleges participate in the Science Education Alliance and Baylor will be one of 12 new schools to join with the first course starting in the Fall 2010.

HHMI, a non-profit medical research organization that ranks as one of the nation's largest philanthropies, plays a powerful role in advancing biomedical research and science education in the U.S. The Institute spent $730 million for research and distributed $101 million in grant support for science education in fiscal year 2009.

For more information, contact Frank Raczkiewicz, Assistant Vice President of Media Communications, at (254) 710-1964
or Dr. Cindy Fox Aisen at (317) 843-2276 for more information about HHMI or the Science Education Alliance.