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How to 'infect' students with a love of science

Studies may show that U.S. high school students are losing interest in science, but don't tell Andrew Hrykowian. As a sophomore at Greater Latrobe Senior High School in Latrobe, Pa., he began the research that would lead to his discovery of a new bacteria-eating virus, which he named "catera" after a friend's dog.

Today, the work done by Hrykowian--who is now a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh--and three other high school students, three high school teachers, seven undergraduate and seven graduate students at Pitt, one volunteer, and seven researchers (from Pitt, the University of Montana, Cornell University, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Stanford University, and Williams College)--is being published in the journal Public Library of Science Genetics.

The paper, titled "Exploring the Mycobacteriophage Metaproteome: Phage Genomics as an Educational Platform," not only represents groundbreaking research into the nature of the bacteriophage genome, but also serves as a blueprint for getting students interested in science.

Bacteriophages ("phages" for short) are viruses that infect bacteria. The most prevalent life form on earth, some cause serious diseases like botulism and cholera. However, phages also may offer cures for bacteria-caused diseases.

Graham Hatfull, who is Eberly Family Professor of Biotechnology and chair of the Department of Biological Sciences in Pitt's School of Arts and Sciences, brings high school and undergraduate students into his "phage-hunting" research through his appointment as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Professor.

In what Hatfull calls the "flagship paper" of his HHMI professorship, the researchers examined the genetic sequences of 30 bacteriophages and sorted them into more than 1,500 "phamilies" of related sequences. They noted that only 15 percent of the phamilies had similar sequences of amino acids to previously reported proteins, reflecting the "enormous genetic diversity of the
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Contact: Karen Hoffmann
klh52@pitt.edu
412-624-4356
University of Pittsburgh
8-Jun-2006


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