Genomics Course Offered as Part of National Science Initiative

One of 12 Colleges Selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Montclair State University is one of 12 colleges and universities recently selected to participate in a National Genomics Research Initiative by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) and its Science Education Alliance (SEA).  The 12 institutions joining the SEA, chosen through a competitive application process, will offer a SEA-designed science course beginning in Fall 2011.  Montclair State is the only academic institution in New Jersey participating in this program, which according to participating faculty will change the way science is taught.

Montclair State will offer the course as a substitute for its introductory biology laboratory to a select group of incoming freshmen. The program will be headed by Sandra D. Adams, associate professor, who was responsible for overseeing Montclair State’s SEA grant application, and Kirsten Monsen-Collar, assistant professor, both of the biology and molecular biology department.  Approximately 24 incoming freshmen will be selected to participate in the program including those declaring biology and molecular biology majors, as well as students who have not declared a major.

According to Professor Adams, “The SEA genome initiative provides the University a unique opportunity to introduce an authentic research experience to students much earlier in their academic studies, exposing them to both the dynamic science process and science career possibilities.”

In the first term, the students will isolate soil-dwelling bacterial viruses, called phage, from locally collected soil. Given the diversity of phage, each one is almost certain to be unique and the students will be able to name their newly identified bacteriophage. They will then spend the rest of the term purifying and characterizing their phage and extracting its DNA.

Between terms, the DNA samples will be sequenced at one of several research centers across the country. In the second half of the course, the students will receive digital files containing their phage’s DNA sequence. The students will then learn to use bioinformatics tools to analyze and annotate the genomes.

Robert S. Prezant, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics, said, “As a University we are always looking to explore innovative techniques for engaging students.  The SEA initiative will give this select group of students a very exciting opportunity, right at the start of their college studies, to delve into a national research and data collection initiative.”

HHMI created the SEA in 2007 to develop resources that enable undergraduate science educators to present innovative courses and programs. Since then, participating faculty have worked together to roll out the course and bring the excitement of experimental research to students in a novel, collaborative way.  The National Genomics Research Initiative is the alliance’s first program, and HHMI has committed $4 million to the course.  Since its inception, students—primarily freshmen—have isolated at least 1,400 phages, and analyzed the DNA sequence of nearly 100 different phages.


2011 Science Education Alliance Members
Brown University
Providence, RI
Carthage College
Kenosha, WI
College of St. Scholastica
Duluth, MN
Georgia Gwinnett College
Lawrenceville, GA
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, MD
Montclair State University
Montclair, NJ
Ohio State University
Columbus, OH
Ouachita Baptist University
Arkadelphia, AR
Southern Connecticut State University
New Haven, CT
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL
Washington State University
Pullman, WA
Xavier University of Louisiana
New Orleans, LA