By Alex Ross 

Fort Belknap college in nationwide study

 

December 7, 2017



Aaniiih Nakoda College is taking part in a nationwide program to learn about bacteriophages.

The college was the recipient of the Science Education Alliance Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science in Tribal Colleges and Universities grant, or SEA-PHAGES in TCU. The three-year, $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation was offered to the college last December, in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute said Dan Kinsey, an environmental science faculty member at the college and one of the program’s instructors.

“The students are actually involved in an ongoing research project,” Kinsey said.

A press release from the college announcing the grant said bacteriophages, also known simply as phages, flourish in nearly every environment on earth and when taken together outnumber all other forms of life. However, because so few of them have been isolated, little is known about their role in health and disease.

Kinsey said 141 colleges and universities throughout the nation are involved in the study.

The grant, Kinsey said, allows for the development of two courses. He said the first course, Phage Discovery, was offered this fall and ended this week. Students and faculty collected soil samples, attempted to grow a phage from the sample. The phage was then isolated and DNA was extracted from the sample. The sample is sent to the University of Pittsburgh to undergo a viral sequence to determine if the samples contain a phage that has not yet been discovered.

This coming semester, which begins in January, students who enroll in the second course will compare the genetic sequences of the phage with those of viruses that have already been identified, he said.

The program, Kinsey said, offers students and faculty the chance to learn about biotechnology, and give them research experience they would not get in other classes.

Kinsey said six students completed the course offered as a general education science course in the fall semester. Students, he said, ranged from liberal arts, to environmental science, allied health and computer sciences.

The course though did face a setback in October, when a snowstorm that led to power outages across the area, cut off power to the lab’s refrigerator and freezer where the samples were stored.

“It slowed us down a bit and we got behind somewhat,” he said. Students were then forced to start the sampling process again.

Otherwise, he said, the first semester of the course went well.

“It’s just rewarding watching our students work in the lab,” Kinsey said. “Lots of hands on stuff in the lab.”

Enrollment he said, is Jan. 10-12 for the spring semester that starts Jan, 16.

 

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