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November  12, 2010

$500,000 NSF grant to spur undergrad research

Dr. Lori Scott and student Alison Kapustka in the Augustana biology lab. Kapustka is a biology/pre-dentistry major from Lincolnwood, Ill. (Augustana Photo Bureau/Mark Marogil)

Augustana students will help interpret genome
of Meiothermus ruber


A $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) is allowing biology professor Dr. Lori Scott to provide undergraduates at Augustana and elsewhere with an original research experience using computer-based bioinformatics.

Working with microbial genome annotation through the Department of Energy's Interpret a Genome Project (DOE-JGI) gives science students a clear advantage when applying for employment or graduate school.

The goal of Interpret a Genome is to give undergraduates the opportunity to analyze DNA and protein sequences within bacteria in their classroom studies, learn the research process to prepare for graduate school, and share their findings with scientists nationwide through the Genome Encyclopedia of Bacteria and Achaea project. The DOE-JGI wants to see all types of bacteria across the scope of living things sequenced in its encyclopedia.

Scott and several colleagues from Quad Cities colleges recently adopted the genome Meiothermus ruber through the DOE-JGI. The complexity of this particular genome drew them in.

"We have a microbe with 3,000 genes, and I predict we have at least 100 years worth of research in front of us," Dr. Scott said.

Dr. Scott and her partners also chose the M. ruber genome because of its red coloring and love for extreme temperatures. So far, more than 120 biology students have worked with the bacteria, and the number is expected to grow as more of Dr. Scott's Augustana colleagues integrate the research into their classroom and lab curriculum.

"The students are really excited about this project," said Dr. Scott. "Students also learn bioinformatics, which is using computers to study biological research. This is a technology that is part of every field in biology and will prepare them for graduate school."

Angela Baumgartner, a senior biology major from Princeton, Ill., agreed. "It helps give a clearer view as to what research entails in the field of molecular genetics, and this has added another piece to the puzzle of where I would like my ongoing education to lead," she said.

Kristy Edison of Sterling, Ill., also is a senior majoring in biology. "I believe this research project will be helpful in acquiring a job in a laboratory setting," she said. "All the skill I used and perfected in the lab will be very helpful in any type of laboratory job, whether it's in a forensic lab or a medical one."

The National Science Foundation also agrees the student-involved research in the Interpret a Genome project is important. The grant will fund the newly created Microbial Genome Annotation Network (MGAN). This network of universities and colleges participating in the genome project has a mission: to increase the number of educators who use the genome program, increase student participation in original research and develop education resources for group members.

The funding already has helped Dr. Scott write a lab book that is being used by MGAN schools in their classrooms. She hopes to fund training for at least 20 new educators this year, but her vision doesn't stop there.

"I want to incorporate the annotation project and curriculum into as many places as possible at Augustana," said Dr. Scott. "Now I get why someone might want to do research rather than teach. Now I get to do both; I get to combine my two passions."

For more information, contact Scott Cason, (309) 794-7323.