Augustana, EICCD, Black Hawk to interpret genome

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

Augustana and two other Quad-City higher education institutions—Eastern Iowa Community College District and Black Hawk Community College—have partnered together to adopt the microbe Meiothermus ruber and join the Interpret a Genome project through the U.S. Department of Energy-Joint Genome Institute (DOE-JGI).  

M. ruber is red bacterium isolated from hot springs that grows in extreme temperatures. The Quad-City area genome group chose the bacterium because of the variety of potential questions for research—a rare research opportunity for undergraduate students.

“We’ve already seen some really interesting things with M. ruber that have branched off new questions,” said Dr. Lori Scott, Augustana professor of biology. “When we annotate, we also contribute to a scientific database available to the public.”

Angela Ghrist, Eastern Iowa Community College (EICCD) professor of biology, agrees. “By participating in the analysis of the Meiothermus ruber genome, EICCD students get a chance to engage in authentic research, an opportunity not available to most community college students,” said Ghrist.

Genome annotation is a process that attaches biological information to a sequence of DNA. Bioinformatics, or computer-based evaluation, assigns the proposed gene and protein function, and then researchers test to prove or disprove the function of each gene. The results will be placed in The Genomic Encyclopedia of Bacteria and Archeae for scientists to access nationwide.

“This is also a wonderful opportunity for the scientific community,” added Dr. Todd Linscott, assistant professor of biology at Black Hawk College. “The amount of new information that is generated every year is astronomical…and scientists have trouble explaining or making this information accessible to the greater community. This project allows us to take a part of this mountain of biological information and use it as a teaching tool to help students learn about life and genetics. ”

The project also will benefit from a $500,000 National Science Foundation grant awarded to Augustana College and a team of institutions called the Microbial Genome Annotation Network (MGAN). The funds will provide Quad-City professors and students—as well as other Interpret a Genome participants throughout the nation—support for research, training, recruitment and classroom resources.

“I hope to inspire other educators to become involved in the Interpret a Genome project, which is the reason for creating MGAN and seeking the funding…from NSF,” said Scott. “We hope to incorporate the project into as many courses as possible at Augustana. A student’s contribution to this project through inquiry-based learning and authentic research will lay a foundation for graduate school and provide a significant contribution to the scientific community.”

Scott, along with MGAN co-founders Dr. Cheryl Kerfeld of the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute Education Program and Dr. Christopher Kvaal of St. Cloud State University, formed the network to get other educators and students from two-year and four-year institutions nationwide involved in the field through the Interpret a Genome project.

Current MGAN members include institutions that are participating in the Interpret a Genome project. The grant will be used to allow members to participate in the DOE-JGI’S workshop, recruit additional members, present findings at national and regional conferences, and develop curriculum resources to integrate the annotation into their undergraduate courses.      

For additional information, contact Scott Cason, assistant vice president of communication and marketing, at (309) 794-7323 or scottcason@augustana.edu.