Advanced Math/Science Research Update
by Dr. April Burch, Director of the AMSR program
January 15, 2013
Since our last update, Berkshire School hosted student researchers from Belmont Hill, and all-boys prep school outside of Boston, for a 1-day mini-symposium on Student Biomedical Research. The goal was to foster collaboration, communication and community outreach with our students. AMSR students Liza Bernstein '13, Sissi Wang '13, Lars Robinson '13, Elsie Guevara '13, Ernest Yue '13, and Nate MacKenzie '14, gave short talks about their work in the new Bellas/Dixon Math and Science lecture hall. The talks were followed up by break-out sessions where Belmont Hill students described their research projects and students discussed commonalities between the projects and future goals.
The second semester of AMSR started with some terrific news. The AMSR program was awarded a grant from The Chinchester Dupont Foundation for the purchase of an EVOS fluorescence microscope. This piece of equipment will expand the types of experiments and analyses that can be done by AMSR students this and future years. The microscope should arrive shortly, and Dr. Burch has invited everyone to stop in for a look next time they are on campus.
One new, exciting project that is underway in the winter season of AMSR in the afternoons is being spearheaded by Elif Kesaf '14. Elif is from Turkey and seeks to identify novel viruses of non-pathogenic strains of Legionella bacterium from travertines in Pamukkale. In collaboration with Dr. Sunny Shin at the Perlman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, she will be working to isolate viruses of this bacterium with the hope of identifying new agents to combat Legionnaires' disease caused by a pathogenic form of Legionella.
Look for more news from Dr. Burch in the next issue!
Bacteriophages (Phages, for short) are viruses of bacteria and can be safely isolated from environmental samples. This summer, Dr. April Burch, Director of the Advanced Math Science Research (AMSR) program, attended a workshop on phage isolation and characterization. With instructors from around the world, she worked to isolate phage from soil samples collected from Berkshire School and the around the Berkshires. She isolated two phage, now named Treddle and Shire. She has adapted this program for AMSR students who will isolate viruses from fresh water samples collected from the region this fall.
Electron micrographs of Treddle are shown below. The low magnification micrograph shows a group of three phages (left) and higher magnification (right) shows features of the virus head and tail.
The Phage-hunting Teachers Workshop, held at the University of Pittsburgh June 25-29, was funded by a Professorship grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to Dr. Graham Hatfull. The goal of the workshop was to give Instructors the tools needed to blend science research and education at the undergraduate level. By providing a hands-on research experience, student Phage-hunters learn by doing rather than by memorizing. This process results in a highly effective pedigogy—and is a ton of fun!
Click here to learn more about the process.
By implementing Phage-hunting in the Advanced Math Science Research, participating students will have the opportunity to isolate their own bacteriophages from a soil or water sample, grow their virus to high concentration in the lab on campus, analyze its structure, sequence its genome, and characterize its growth traits. This highly-personalized student-driven research program will provide a deep understanding of many biological concepts and advanced laboratory skills to Berkshire students.
Known phages are entered in a phage database. Dr. Burch's two phages, Treddle and Shire, are listed on a page dedicated to Berkshire discoveries, and future phages studied by AMSR students will hopefully be added. Click here to view Berkshire's page in the phage database.