FEATURES

Learning Biology Through Research

Tribal colleges join innovative program that makes research the centerpiece of introductory biology courses

By Paul Boyer

Howard Hughes Medical Institute Program Officer Dr. Viknesh Sivanathan with student Emily Davis. Through the HHMI program, Davis began studying phages as a freshman at James Madison University and later worked as a lab assistant at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Several tribally controlled colleges will soon begin developing their own SEA-PHAGES programs. Photo courtesy of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Many colleges and universities now promote undergraduate research opportunities, they are, too often, offered to a select few. While juniors and seniors pursing STEM degrees might, in small numbers, benefits from this enriching form of learning, most students enrolled in lower division science courses still encounter conventional 100-level lecture and lab classes.

Since 2008, however, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in Chevy Chase, Maryland has pioneered an innovative biology curriculum that makes original research the centerpiece of even introductory biology courses. Called SEA-PHAGES (Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science), the curriculum developed by HHMI focusing on the collection, isolation, and analysis of bacteriophages.

Bacteriophages, also called phages, are viruses that infect bacteria. They are abundantly present in the environment, both in soil and water, and are a highly diverse. This makes them an ideal subject for undergraduate research; every phage is a new discovery and its identification is a genuine contribution to the biological sciences.

According to HHMI Program Officer Dr, Viknesh Sivanathan, however, the larger goal of the SEA-PHAGES program is to enrich undergraduate education. Applying research methods to the isolation and analysis of phages allows lower division college students “the opportunity to engage in authentic research early in their academic career,” he said. “Not many students have the opportunity to do so, as most mentored research is typically offered to a small number of students.”

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Conducting Fieldwork in the Shadow of DAPL

Sitting Bull College’s Linda Black Elk leads an environmental impact study on plants at Standing Rock, and works to decolonize medicine through Medic and Healer Council.

By Katie Scarlett Brandt

The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction in Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADakota_Access_Pipe_Line%2C_Central_Iowa.jpg

The Dakota Access Pipeline under construction in Iowa. Photo by Carl Wycoff. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ADakota_Access_Pipe_Line%2C_Central_Iowa.jpg

Sitting Bull College instructor Linda Black Elk isn’t the easiest person to get a hold of—and with good reason. As an ethnobotanist who studies the way people use plants for food and medicine, her research interests have led her to become actively involved in the ongoing Dakota Access Pipeline opposition movement at Standing Rock.

Black Elk now spends much of her time out of the classroom, traveling between two protest sites–Sacred Stone Camp and the Oceti Sakowin Camp. Both are within a few miles of Sitting Bull College on Standing Rock Reservation, and Black Elk has two active research projects unfolding there.

“I want to show the wider public that this isn’t just about water. Water is the foundation of life, but more than water will be impacted by this pipeline,” she says.

The projects grew out of a conversation Black Elk had back in April. LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, who lives on Standing Rock Reservation, told Black Elk that a construction company was planning to run a pipeline through the area near Allard’s land and under the Missouri River.

“She knew that I gathered food and medicine right in the path of the pipeline,” Black Elk says. “When I found out the buffaloberry was going to be gone, I said we have to do something.”

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Student Research

A Comparison of the Antimicrobial Activities of Cultivated Echinacea angustifolia (Purple Coneflower) versus Wild E. angustifolia

Ech2Marlee Finley, Levi Binstock, and Mandy Guinn
Environmental Science Department, United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck, ND 58504

Abstract

Medicinal plants have been have been used for centuries to treat various diseases across the world. While plant extracts have been used to synthesize modern commercial drugs, so far only a small percent of traditionally prescribed plant medicines have been studied for their therapeutic value. In recent years, the American public has become enamored with herbal remedies, yet there continues to be a relative scarcity of scientific research. Echinacea (purple coneflower) has received global attention because of its potential for medicinal value. Extensive laboratory and clinical research on Echinacea angustifolia in the last few years in Germany has confirmed its immunostimulatory, antiviral, and antibacterial benefit to humans. The purpose of this study is to use the agar-well diffusion method to compare antimicrobial activity of cultivated and wild E. angustifolia. We hypothesize that cultivated E. angustifolia will show more antimicrobial activity against five different strains of bacteria (two Gram-negative, three Gram-positive) due to being cultivated under ideal conditions.

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Field Notes: The Native Science Report Blog

NSF INCLUDES Preliminary Proposal Webinar

Members of the NSF INCLUDES Implementation Working Group are pleased to present the second webinar on Design and Development Launch Pilots Preliminary Proposal to the current solicitation for NSF INCLUDES (NSF 17-522) to provide program overview and submission instructions.

The webinar will be held, Thursday, January 12, 2017, 1:00 -2:00 pm Eastern Standard Time.

During this webinar, a video message from NSF Director France Córdova will provide a brief overview of the INCLUDES program (“Inclusion Across The Nation Of Communities Of Learners Of Underrepresented Discoverers In Engineering And Science”).

Following the video, NSF staff will outline a presentation of program goals, contacts, requirements and instructions for those interested in submitting a preliminary proposal to NSF for design and development launch pilots. The session will include interactive text Q&A with NSF program officers

The webinar is free, but registration is required. A confirmation email with instructions for joining the session will be sent following registration.

You are encouraged to invite your colleagues to attend. In some cases, it may be useful to reserve a conference room at your institution and invite faculty and program administrators from across the institution to attend the webinar collectively from one location.

There will be opportunities to ask program officers questions and also receive tips on writing competitive NSF grant proposals. Questions may also be submitted in advance by email to NSFINCLUDES@nsf.gov

Registration closes Thursday, January 12, 2017

For more information:

NSF Includes Special Report

NSF 17-522 NSF INCLUDES Frequently Asked Questions

EPSCoR Research Fellows Program

The National Science Foundation is currently accepting proposals for funding through the EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement Track 4: Research Fellows Program.

RII Track-4 “provides opportunities for non-tenured investigators to further develop their individual research potential through extended collaborative visits to the nation’s premier private, governmental, or academic research centers,” according to the solicitation.

Research fellows are expected to “learn new techniques, benefit from access to unique equipment and facilities, and shift their research toward transformative new directions.”

Awards may not exceed $300,000 over a two-year period. The deadline for submission of the full proposal is February 28, 2017.

For more information: https://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2017/nsf17509/nsf17509.htm