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Texas State students join leading edge of microbial genome research

By Lauren A. Lamb
University News Service
April 10, 2009

Texas State University-San Marcos may just be on the way to producing some of the strongest future biochemists around. Recently, Texas State was accepted--along with 20 other universities--to conduct research on behalf of the U.S. Department of Energy. 

This national program initiative, called the Microbial Genome Annotation Research Program, is being coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute (DOE JGI).

Beginning in the coming 2009-2010 academic year, Texas State juniors and seniors enrolled in upper level biochemistry courses, will be able to analyze and annotate genomes of various microorganisms as part of their coursework. The research the student conduct will contribute to a worldwide online genome database maintained by the Department of Energy.

Texas State students, along with those from the other involved universities will annotate a lengthy list of genomes that have been sequenced as part of the Genomic Encyclopedia of Bacteria and Archaea (GEBA) project and then publish their findings. Because each university receives credit for the research information, each institution is accountable for the work that is done on specific genomes. The work collected in the database has the potential lead to advancements in the development of pharmaceuticals.

Texas State biochemistry faculty members Wendi David, Ron Walter, Linette Watkins and Rachell Booth will oversee the approximately 100 students expected to participate in this program.

“All students enrolled in [biochemistry] courses will learn to participate in gene analysis and annotation at some level,” said Booth. “In the cases where students become interested in specific gene annotation research projects, we plan to be able to further their interests through independent studies or honors thesis projects.”

The Department of Energy began this program on a pilot basis at 12 universities in 2007, including UCLA, Michigan State University and the University of Nebraska.

“Among our most important goals at the JGI is to engage undergraduates as scientists in DOE mission-relevant research,” said Cheryl Kerfeld, the program’s founder and head of the Joint Genome Institute’s education program.

 It is because of technology advancements and programs such as this that there is a need for universities to offer these types of research opportunities for undergraduate students, said Booth.

“In order to properly prepare our students for success in their careers, our biochemistry program was developed with both ‘minds-on’ and ‘hands-on’ approaches,” she said. “Our commitment to engaging students in independent research as part of the course curriculum, making an impact on every student while still serving the large number of diverse students entering our program, and ensuring students are successfully prepared for future careers made Texas State a good choice for inclusion in this collaboration.”

About the Joint Genome Institute
The U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, supported by the DOE Office of Science, unites the expertise of five DOE national laboratories--Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Pacific Northwest--along with the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology to advance genomics in support of the DOE missions related to clean energy generation and environmental characterization and cleanup. DOE JGI’s Walnut Creek, Calif., Production Genomics Facility provides integrated high-throughput sequencing and computational analysis that enable systems-based scientific approaches to these challenges. Additional information about DOE JGI can be found at: