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Academics: Phage Research Course

Phage Hunters @ Calvin: Advancing Genomic, Biomedical, and Ecological Sciences

  • What if you could discover and name a new virus?
  • What if your discovery shed new light on health and the environment?
  • What if this research would be part of your first biology course?
  • What if this research could result in a scientific publication?
  • And what if you could do this all in your first year of college?

In 2009, Calvin College was selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to be one of the first 24 schools nationwide to participate in a new science education initiative called the National Genomic Research Initiative. In this program, 20 first year Calvin students make real scientific discoveries by doing research on bacterial viruses, called phage. During the two-semester introductory biology sequence led by biology professors Randall DeJong and John Wertz, students learn techniques from across biology, including microbiology, molecular biology, genomics, ecology, biomedicine, global health/sustainability and bioinformatics.

Students in lab

An exciting two-semester biology sequence

In the first semester, Calvin students isolate phage from various environments, likely finding phage that have never been seen before. The class spends the remainder of the first semester purifying and characterizing their phage, evaluating phage diversity in the environment, visualizing their phage via electron microscopy, and extracting phage DNA. Students even get to name their phage. Larissa Osterbaan

Between semesters, the purified DNA genomes from selected phage are sequenced with Calvin's new next generation DNA sequencer.

In the second semester, students use bioinformatics and comparative genomics to analyze and annotate the phage genome and compare it to other phage, gaining invaluable insight into its potential form and function. The data are then deposited in NCBI Genbank, an international DNA sequence database accessible to scientists across the globe.


To be eligible to participate a student must

  • enroll as a full-time student for the first time at Calvin in Fall 2014
  • demonstrate academic potential or ability,
  • have a strong interest in science generally.

The focus will be biology but you don't have to be a biology major. Unfortunately, this is not designed for pre-nursing majors.

How do I apply?

The application process for 2014 is open. Applications and recommendations should be completed online and are due by April 1 2014.

Phage lab

Other resources at Calvin

Apply now

The application process for 2014 is open. Applications and recommendations are due by April 1, 2014.

Electron micrograph of mycobacteriophage Anaya. Anaya infects and destroys Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causitive agent of tuberculosis. Isolated and named by Ariangela Davis '13 when she was a first-year student.

Student collecting phage

Student collecting phage

Program benefits

  • Experience research and scientific discovery
  • Learn biology by doing biology
  • Earn the same number of credits as students in the regular biology sequence
  • Use cutting-edge genomics research tools
  • Share results, resources and expertise with a network of select colleges and universities contributing to this research

Find out more