Students of the Discovery of Phages international course presented their work – Diario El Ciudadano y la Región

A group of students from the international elective course Discovery of Phages, from the Sea-Phages (Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science) program of the Faculty of Biochemical and Pharmaceutical Sciences of the UNR, presented the final results of the first step through a methodology that was carried out for the first time in a house of higher studies of the National University of Rosario.

This training for undergraduate students is part of an agreement with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) based in Maryland (USA), which has been developing since the 1950s scientific projects synonymous with cutting-edge experimental science. .

Based on this agreement, the faculty is part of one of the most prestigious scientific academic institutions in the world, underlined Dr. Alejandra Mussi, responsible for the implementation of the project.

The objective of this elective, which began to be taught in August of the 2022 academic year, is to implement high-tech research experiences in undergraduate teaching, with a sense of ownership of the project and in using innovative pedagogy. In particular, the program includes advanced microbiological and genetic techniques, phage observation by electron microscopy, as well as advanced omics such as genome sequencing, assembly and phage annotation.

Open class

From the experiment, 15 students from different years of Biotechnology and Biochemistry degrees participated: 10 5th year biochemists, 3 5th year biotechnologists and 2 first year biotechnologists, respectively, who presented their research results in a class opened before the faculty the authorities.

Regarding the benefits of the subject, Dr. Alejandra Mussi clarified, “We use the highest technological capabilities and pedagogical innovation that cross different fields of knowledge, such as basic microbiology and bioinformatics.”

Typically, this type of knowledge that involves genome sequencing techniques and electron microscopy occurs in our faculty’s postgraduate and postdoctoral courses, so this first experience meant, in the words of its manager: “A great challenge because we include freshmen and subjects with other advanced students. It was very heterogeneous and a very disruptive thing to do,” Mussi pointed out.

Previously, the team of teacher-researchers, also made up of doctors Lautaro Diacovich and Hugo Gramajo, traveled to the United States to train not only in the protocols but also in the pedagogical aspects, since it is a question of a cross-curricular subject that teaches each student to make decisions. and choose your own path to get a result.

In this context, by generating a feeling of ownership of the projects, it was realized that: “Each participant discovers his path, goes back when he had to go back, repeats the experiences and makes decisions. It is important that each student feels that they are making a scientific contribution and that their discovery can solve social problems,” explained Mussi, who appreciated that this step had been taken on time.

For Tomas Giusti, a first-year student, following this option allowed him to reaffirm his scientific vocation. “It was a very nice experience, thanks to this internship I was able to confirm that biotechnology is the career I want to continue studying,” he said. Regarding the learning that the course left him, the student added: “I learned a lot of things, such as a random technique, what is a phage, how to cut DNA and electron microscopy. It took a lot of practice, we had theory, but we watched videos while we went through the protocol and the teachers gave us the freedom to take a path and reach the goal,” said Giusti, who also appreciated the heterogeneous composition of the class: “There were boys from other larger races who helped us and gave advice for the study”.

Survey results

In the closing open class, all students presented the results of their research to their peers and voted for first, second and third place for the most outstanding phages whose genomes will be sequenced.

The second phase consists of annotating the genome, for which five phages were sent to the laboratory of the university Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), although the program analyzes only one sample, the rest is in case of DNA sequencing problem. .

The subject continued in December with the trip of three professors in the field of bioinformatics, doctors Martín Espariz, Mariano Torres Manno and doctor Florencia Mascalli, to the headquarters of the HHMI in Washington, with the aim of delving into the genome annotation which will be the subject of work for the first half of next year.

Finally, the dean of the faculty, Dr. Andrés Sciara, underlined “This alliance with an institution of the prestige of HHMI shows us, once again, that our professors and students can work on projects with the highest scientific standards. But also that through teacher training and innovation, we can provide alternatives to improve teaching processes, student retention and academic quality”

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