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Science Education Alliance:  The Phage Lab

The “Phage Lab” is a research-based, year-long laboratory experience that Wren Scholars have the opportunity to take in place of the standard Introductory Biology Laboratory (that is a co-requisite for BIOL 220 and BIOL 225).  The Phage Lab is part of the nationwide HHMI SEA-PHAGES (Science Education Alliance – Phage Hunting Advancing Genomic and Evolutionary Science) program under the leadership of Dr. Graham Hatfull at the University of Pittsburgh and HHMI – now beginning its eighth year. William & Mary has had the pleasure of participating in this novel program as part of the initial cohort of schools eight year ago.

The overarching goals of the SEA-PHAGES program are twofold:  (1) to provide an authentic research experience for the introductory biology lab to excite and engage students in the discovery of new knowledge; and (2) to discover and characterize new phages in order to explore the diversity of phages that infect a specific family of bacteria, namely the Actinobacteria.   Phages are viruses the specifically infect bacteria and they constitute the most abundant biological entity on the planet.  Despite their prevalence a great deal remains to be discovered about their diversity, evolution, and molecular genetics.  Well over half of the proteins discovered in these bacteriophage genomes have unknown functions, functions that may prove useful in biotechnology and clinical applications.

Students in Phage Lab begin by collecting soil samples from the local environment and isolate phages from these samples that infect specific bacterial hosts.  They name their phage, conduct basic morphological and genetic characterization, and then, following sequencing, progress to advanced bioinformatic and functional analysis and publication of their work in Genbank and ultimately in a peer-reviewed publication.

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For stories about Phage Lab at William & Mary, see


William & Mary · P.O. Box 8795 · Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795