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Gatton Academy Student Presents Research at Scientific Symposium

watch 300Gatton Academy student Gretchen Walch is pictured with Dr. Graham Hatfull, Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Professor.BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (6/18/13) - Gretchen Walch, a rising Gatton Academy senior from Alexandria, represented the 2012-13 WKU Genome Discovery and Exploration class at the 5th Annual SEA-PHAGES (Science Education Alliance – Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science) scientific symposium, sponsored by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Gatton Academy student Gretchen Walch is pictured with Dr. Graham Hatfull, Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Professor. Dr. Hatfull is the Principal Investigator for the HHMI Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomic and Evolutionary Science program, a research-based laboratory course aimed at undergraduate students who are new to college-level science and have had little or no independent research experience.

Walch received an honorable mention for her presentation titled “Isolation, Characterization and Genomic Analysis of Mycobacteriophages Achebe, MooMoo, Simpliphy and Updawg.”

The meeting took place June 7-9 at the Janelia Farm Research campus in Ashburn, Va. This year’s symposium featured more than 75 undergraduate poster presentations.

Dr. Rodney King and Dr. Claire Rinehart, professors in WKU’s Department of Biology, have co-mentored Walch over the past year and attended the symposium with her.

“Gretchen was chosen to represent the WKU Genome Discovery and Exploration class because she demonstrated enthusiasm, maturity, perseverance and genuine curiosity,” Dr. King said. “She spent many extra hours in the lab learning as much as she could about her phage and ensuring her lab notebook was complete and up-to-date. Gretchen also embraced the collaborative nature of the scientific process and willingly helped her classmates with laboratory protocols.”

The WKU Biology Department has participated in the SEA-PHAGES program since the fall of 2009. The Genome Discovery and Exploration Program at WKU is designed to engage freshman students in meaningful and authentic research that produces publishable results.

Course participants isolate and sequence novel viruses from the soil, contribute the genomic sequences to a public database and address scientific questions of viral diversity and evolution.

Walch came away from the SEA-PHAGES symposium with a renewed interest in continuing research.

“The SEA-PHAGES Symposium was inspiring,” she said. “The environment and guest speakers expanded my imagination in research. Every part of the program from the presentations and poster sessions to the meals and coffee breaks fostered the wonderful concept of scientific dialog. My mind has been racing with excitement since I heard the first talk.”

A number of additional Gatton Academy students contributed to the work presented on Walch’s poster. Gatton students who are co-authors on the presentation include: Corbin M. Allender, Grace E. Babbs, Barry C. Blair, Carolyn M. Clark, Joseph E. Crafton, Ajit R. Deshpande, Samantha M. Dinga, Hannah N. Graff, Alex W. Kearns, Azlin L. Lewis, Mary-Grace E. Luscher, Patrick G. Osterhaus, Lindsey R. Porter, Lindsey M. Shain, Domnique C. Thayer, Vishnuteja Tirumala and Connor M. VanMeter.

For information about WKU’s SEA-PHAGES research class, contact Dr. Rodney King at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or Dr. Claire Rinehart at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

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Posted on 2/2/14
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