Wittke-Thompson Joins Genomics Education Partnership

May 10, 2019 | Joliet, Ill.

University of St. Francis (USF) department chair of natural and health sciences Jacqueline Wittke-Thompson, Ph.D., recently became a member of the Genomics Education Partnership (GEP), a national collaboration between a growing number of undergraduate institutions and Washington University’s biology department and McDonnell Genome Institute.

Wittke-Thompson completed a thirteen-week online training to become a member of the GEP. The training included weekly assignments on learning how to annotate genes, and how to use the bioinformatics tools and gene reports used by GEP.  It also included participation in live, online meetings with the GEP’s new member mentorship coordinator (Catherine Reinke, Ph.D., from Linfield College) and an assigned mentor (Jennifer Mierisch, Ph.D., from Loyola University Chicago).

The membership, according to Wittke-Thompson, will present many new opportunities for USF students.

“This partnership will offer undergraduate biology and biochemistry majors the opportunity to complete genomic research on newly sequenced species, and to contribute to the scientific community.  Students will be able to present their research at GEP meetings and will be included on the list of authors for future GEP scientific research manuscripts.  This is a unique experience for our students at USF,” Wittke-Thompson said.

Biology major Natalie Rozwadowski of Romeoville, Ill. will be the first USF student to take part in research as a result of the membership and will do so as part of USF’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE). Wittke-Thompson will serve as Rozwadowski’s faculty mentor.

“Natalie’s SURE project is to annotate genes in Drosophila takahashii on chromosome 3L,” Wittke-Thompson explained.  “Initially, when a genome is sequenced, computers are used to identify genes based upon prior information from other genomes – like D. melanogaster, which is a species of fruit fly which its genome has been studied for over twenty years.  Gene annotation is then completed by scientists to verify if the computer algorithms correctly identified the location of genes and their unique structures.  D. takahashii is a newly sequenced species of fruit fly that is currently part of a GEP genome sequencing and annotation project.”

“Natalie and I will actually claim a region of chromosome 3L as our project through GEP, and then make comparisons between D. takahashii and D. melanogaster to identify potential errors in the genomic assembly, and identify similarities and differences between the two species.  All data and conclusions will be given to GEP in order to help finalize the D. takahashii genome assembly for the larger scientific community and to contribute to future GEP manuscripts,” she said.

Visit gep.wustl.edu for more information on the Genomics Education Partnership.

The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves over 4,000 students nationwide, offering undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 49,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit stfrancis.edu.

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