The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) created the Science Education Alliance (SEA) and introduced the National Genomics Research Initiative (NGRI) in 2008 with a cohort of 12 institutions. The NGRI program, which was renamed Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (PHAGES) in 2011, provides a year-long, classroom-based research experience for university freshmen. In PHAGES, students each isolate and characterize a novel bacteriophage, also known as phage, which is a virus that infects bacteria. Each year, the genome of one or more phage is sequenced, and students then identify the location of the genes to create an annotation of the phage genome. The University of North Texas (UNT) was selected to join the SEA in 2009 as a member of the second cohort and received funding from HHMI for materials and supplies for the first three years of the program. The first PHAGES class at UNT began in the fall semester of 2009.
Robert Benjamin and Lee Hughes discuss this program in their article Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (PHAGES): Implementing a Research-based Course for Freshmen at the University of North Texas published in The Eagle Feather 2012 Issue's Special Section: HHMI Scholars Program.
Robert C. Benjamin holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in biology from Harvard University. He has been a member of the faculty at the University of North Texas since 1982. His fields of expertise include forensic molecular biology; he has consulted on more than 300 cases since 1988. He has also is an expert on population genetics of various wildlife species including flamingo, scarlet macaw, roseate spoonbill, and prairie dogs, among others. He teaches two honors sections of BIOL 1711, regular BIOL 1710, the HHMI NGRI class related to the article above, molecular biology, genetics and biotechnology courses.
Lee E. Hughes is an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. He has co-directed the PHAGES program at UNT since its inception. He also is the program director for UNT’s HHMI Science Education Grant Program. Dr. Hughes focuses on research in both microbiology and undergraduate science education.