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The 2018 Gettysburg College-Penn State University Annual Phage Symposium

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Innovative undergraduate research programs from Penn State and Gettysburg College came together this weekend at Lake Raystown to share experiences hunting phages from land and sea. Twenty-one students and three faculty members immersed themselves in all things  bacteriophage on Saturday, April 7, 2018.

The 2018 Gettysburg College-Penn State University Annual Phage Symposium Photo 1At Penn State approximately 40 undergraduate students a year enter the world of research each summer through BMB 398S (Freshman Research Experience I) under the guidance of Dr. Greg Broussard. The Biochemistry and Microbiology Biology students isolated bacteriophage that infect the bacterium Vibrio harveyi from Chesapeake Bay oysters. They proceeded to sequence the DNA from their pet viruses and photograph them using an Electron Microscope.  A subset of the students continued their research during the fall as part of BMB 398D (Freshman Research Experience II) in which they identified genes from the bacteriophage sequences. The record of their work is deposited in GenBank, for other phage hunters to use. Spring semester finds the students in the lab conducting independent research that allows them to follow their own interests. At each step of the way students write reports and present their research to their colleagues. The annual event at Lake Raystown was the culminating experience for four students.

The 2018 Gettysburg College-Penn State University Annual Phage Symposium Photo 2


Two PSU students from the department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology(PPEM) accompanied the Penn State team. PPEM is known for providing 1 on 1 mentorship on authentic research project to undergraduate students in faculty laboratories. These students were selected to join because they were conducting independent research on bacteriophage and bacteriocins that also break bacterial cells open and kill them. They were accompanied by Dr. Carolee Bull who serves as the Head of PPEM and who provided the keynote address sharing the origins of the names of the students favorite organisms.



The 2018 Gettysburg College-Penn State University Annual Phage Symposium Photo 3

Networking between the Penn State Students and the Phage Hunters at Gettysburg College is one of the most important perks of the day. Gettysburg College freshman who have expressed an interest gaining research experience prepare by taking a two-semester class (Bio113 and Bio114). These phage hunters are trying to stop fire blight of apple and pear, a severe tree disease caused by the bacterial pathogen, Erwinia amylovora. The overarching goal of the class and research of Dr. Nikki Shariat of Gettysburg College and her colleague Kari Peter from Penn State’s Fruit Research and Extension Center is to develop phage-based therapeutics to mitigate fire blight. Students start by isolating and characterizing their own phage in the fall which study throughout the semester. Similar to the Penn State team they sequence and identify genes from their phage DNA. As the students’ curiosity grow they form groups of 2-3 to write proposals and work on independent projects. Their hard work results a genome annotation paper and a paper reporting their independent project.


Because scientific communication is a crucial skill for any scientist, Drs. Shariat and Broussard developed the annual Gettysburg College-Penn State Phage Research Symposium as a vehicle for their students to present both oral and a poster presentation, participate in multiple professional development workshops, and network during meals and hikes. For the majority of students, this is the first time they have presented in public and so presenting to a peer group of Phage Hunters has proven to be very effective.


Winners from 2018 Gettysburg College-Penn State University Phage Research Symposium


Oral Presentations

First Prize: Abigail Deaven and Katherine Estell “Breaking and entering: Bacteriophage EPS-Depolymerase and the Erwinia amylovora biofilm barrier"

Second Prize: Liam Gallagher and Alyssa Powers “Overcoming the obstacle of altering vibriophage DNA in terms of E. coli electroporation”


Poster Presentations

First Prize: Gyasu Bajracharya and Matthew Canonizado “Better together: identificatio, analysis, and characterization of prophages in the genomes of four Erwinia species.”

Second Prize: Nicholas Sutton: “Don’t cry over curdled milk”


Best combined Oral and Poster Presentation:

Andrew May “Conditionally redundant bacteriocins produced by Pseudomonas syringae” and “Confirmation of genetic mutations as the cause of bacteriocin resistance in Pseudomonas syringae”