National Genome Research Initiative: A New Paradigm For Teaching Research To Undergraduates In South America

Rafael Ovalle


Introduction: From 2007 to 2011, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) recruited professors across the US to test a new paradigm in undergraduate education: the National Genome Research Initiative (NGRI). Undergraduates were taught to isolate bacteriophages, characterize their findings, and report to the scientific community.

Objective: The educational goal of the NGRI program was to expose science undergraduates to an authentic research experience to increase graduation rates. The scientific goal was to isolate mycobacteriophages to be used as therapeutic agents against disease-causing mycobacteria.

Materials and Methods: In a one-semester lab course undergraduates are taught to find, grow, and purify bacteriophages. In the second semester, students use bioinformatic software to annotate sequences of their bacteriophages.

Results: Ahead of data on student graduation rates, the NGRI program has generated expanded productivity for US undergraduates. Over a four year period, thousands of participants were taught to collect bacteriophages, annotate sequences, and present their findings. Those undergraduates will have isolated 2300+ phages, annotated 250+ sequences, presented hundreds of posters at conferences across the US, and are co-authors on papers published by labs participating in the NGRI program.

Discussion: Many professors in the US academic community are convinced that the NGRI program will have lasting impact on the US educational system. Several professors have banded together to form the Phage Galaxy Consortium to continue HHMI’s goal of implementation of the NGRI program at all US colleges.

Conclusions: HHMI’s paradigm is ready for distribution to Central and South America.


Bacteriophage, Bioinformatics, Education, Laboratory, Undergraduate.

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