BLACKSBURG, Va., June 26, 2007 - Students enrolled in Galileo Magnet High School’s Microbial Genomics course visited VBI with their instructors on May 30, 2007 to learn more about the institute’s cyberinfrastructure work and present findings from their final exam projects.

A total of 25 students and three teachers – Chris Gregory, Joyce Culley, and Jason Gibson – were given a tour of VBI’s facilities by Susan Faulkner, VBI’s education and outreach officer. Oswald Crasta, co-director of the cyberinfrastructure group, gave the group an overview of VBI’s cyberinfrastructure program. VBI Senior Research Associate Daphne Rainey provided several cyberinfrastructure team modules, incorporating pathogen information from several ongoing projects into realistic scenarios. An outbreak situation was described to the students and they used the tools and theories learned in their class to identify possible drug targets or vaccine candidates.

The goal of the Microbial Genomics class was to study pathogens from a bioinformatics perspective. Using the web-based tools from Biology Workbench and information available from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), the students analyzed both bacteria and viruses. Class lab activities included bacterial staining, extraction of DNA from bacteria, antibiotic sensitivity tests, and the examination of antigen-antibody reactions. To complete their final examination for the class, the students were required to author a case study to present to the class consisting of descriptions of a series of patients with specific symptoms and the medical tests performed on the patients. The students were then required to identify a possible drug target or vaccine candidate based on their research. Three students from the class presented their final exam projects during their visit to VBI.

VBI has formed a partnership with Galileo Magnet School as part of a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to support a forward-looking initiative in education in cyberinfrastructure. Funds from the project have been used to develop and implement the course at Galileo Magnet School, with an overall goal of broadening students’ access to computer-related technologies and encouraging trained students to pursue higher education opportunities involving bioinformatics. Crasta serves as the principal investigator for the project, while Faulkner and Stephen Cammer, senior bioinformatics scientist, serve as co-principal investigators.

Published by Susan Bland, June 26, 2007