Students in a lab

The SEA-PHAGES Program Improves Student Success

Discovery-based, undergraduate research allows students to gain lab skills

September 26, 2022

The UMass Amherst Inclusive Excellence Program, now in its fifth year, is funded by a $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to increase the university’s capacity for inclusion of all students, but especially for students traditionally underrepresented in the sciences.

In 2020, as an important component of Inclusive Excellence, the College of Natural Sciences launched the Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) program. SEA-PHAGES is a two-semester, discovery-based undergraduate research course. Through participation in SEA-PHAGES, students gain a wide variety of lab skills that better prepare them for future success as researchers.

In Phage Discovery, the first course in the sequence, students dig soil samples on campus and work throughout the semester to isolate and characterize new bacteriophages. In Phage Bioinformatics, the second course, students annotate the sequenced genome from a phage discovered during the previous semester and publish it in GenBank.

As of the Fall 2022 semester, the SEA-PHAGES curriculum has officially replaced the traditional introductory lab experience in biology. As a result, all 1,200 students who take Introductory Biology are now engaged in authentic research in their first-year experience.

This transformation is the result of the efforts of faculty Jess Rocheleau and Randy Phillis of biology, Sloan Siegrist of microbiology and Peter Chien of biochemistry and molecular biology.

Click here to watch the student and faculty highlights in the Phage Discovery course.

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