Campus and Community

UHD Faculty Research Seeks to Engage Students in STEM

Dr. Sanghamitra Saha & Dr. Rachna Sadana

Two University of Houston-Downtown faculty members joined fellow academicians from around the United States to promote the impact of engaging undergraduate students in scientific research is educationally advantageous.

In the College of Sciences & Technology’s Department of Natural Sciences, Dr. Rachna Sadana, associate professor and Dr. Saha Sanghamitra, lecturer, are contributing authors to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America’s (PNAS) article, “An Inclusive Research Education Community (iREC): Impact of SEA-PHAGES Program on Research Outcomes and Student Learning.”

The Science Education Alliance Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) project is a two-semester, discovery-based undergraduate research course. During the first semester (BIOL 1101), students isolate bacteriophages or phages (viruses that infect bacteria) from local soil samples, purify and characterize their phages, and submit phage genomes for sequencing. In the second semester (BIOL 1102), students analyze the phage genomes through bioinformatics. Involving undergraduate students in scientific research at early stages in their careers will be an opportunity to excite students about biology and promote continued interest in this area while teaching fundamental biology concepts.

The SEA-PHAGES program aims to increase undergraduate interest and retention in the biological sciences through immediate immersion in authentic, valuable, yet accessible research.

“By finding and naming their own bacteriophages, students develop a sense of project ownership,” said Sadana. “This project seems meaningful to students because all students get to submit their findings in national database.”

The freshmen biology lab course sequence has been offered at UHD since fall 2013. UHD students have named and submitted 35 phages to the national database. Genome analysis of three phages—Edugator, Kerberos and TBond007—have been published as peer-reviewed articles in the journal, “Genome Announcement,” which were co-authored by multiple UHD students.

Genome Announcement paper co-authored by UHD students:

The PNAS’ published paper focused on the impact of the program on advancement in research and student learning with data collected from surveying 8,000 students who took the SEA-PHAGES at 161 institutions, including UHD, over nine years.