Going Viral: First-Year Phage Hunting

“He was one of the people who was instrumental in helping us rethink the way that we teach our students in the very first courses they have here,” said Mia Bertagnoli, Ph.D, professor and chair of the biology department at GU.

Anders has had a principal role in providing all first-year Gonzaga students with the opportunity to launch their collegiate careers by doing science, as Gonzaga takes part in a nation-wide research project to discover and study bacteriophages (phages for short—these are viruses that infect and grow in bacteria) genomics (the DNA sequencing of these phages) found in the environment.

In addition to the obvious benefits of hands-on learning in introductory biology, GU students are also discovering, naming and publishing their work associated with a phage. That means that in what may be their first college biology course, students in the phage lab at Gonzaga are doing more than just absorbing information—they are making important intellectual contributions to the field. Anders’ passion for opportunities like these stems from his on undergraduate experience.

“When I was an undergraduate student and I had the opportunity to do research in a medical research lab, that’s when I discovered how exiting science and research were. I love learning. Now, I get to be creative in how I do my research and in how I teach my classes. I’m trying to find the best ways for students to learn.”

This innovative academic approach has led to Gonzaga students having a marked impact on phage genomics; in 2015, GU students discovered 11 percent of the phages listed on the Actinobacteriophage database. In true Zag style, they’re having fun, too—one of the phages discovered at GU was named “Spike509.”

Gonzaga’s participation in the “Science Education Alliance’s Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science” (SEA-PHAGES) project, is made possible grants from the Science Education Alliance of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the National Science Foundation.

Contributions to the Campaign help Gonzaga continue to provide the tools faculty need to find and implement academic innovations like the phage lab.


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