Education

Thiel Students Take Part in Bacteriophage Research

GREENVILLE, Pa. – Students at Thiel College are contributing to research that will help scientists better understand virus-fighting bacteria and how they could be used to replace antibiotics.

Through the Science Education Alliance- Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics, or Sea-Phages, program launched by Thiel College biology professor Sarah Swerdlow, students spend an academic year completing research.

Run in conjunction with a group from the University of Pittsburgh and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s science education department, students dig in soil then apply microbiology techniques to characterize the bacteriophages.  

“The students in the class, who are mostly freshman, learned how to do research and discovered new phages,” Swerdlow said in a statement. “They used problem solving and critical thinking skills every day in lab, as well as, learned lab techniques that can be applied to other research projects throughout their time at Thiel and after they graduate. It’s very exciting.”

One phage genome discovered by the Thiel College class was sequenced by the University of Pittsburgh group and will be used in a genetics class this autumn. There, students will annotate the genome, figuring out its genes and functions.

“Phages have been studied for decades, but have not been accepted into general western medicine. Because phages are extremely specific to the bacteria they infect, if you find the right phage it will have the ability to kill bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics,” Swerdlow continued. “Recently, in the United States, phages have been used as a last resort, but many scientists believe they are the most promising alternative to antibiotics.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.