Posts in category Education

Durban Microbiome Workshop

As part of our continued effort to bring genomics to other communities, Alex Voorhies, Derek Harkins and Andres Gomez traveled to Durban, South Africa to lead a series of workshops on microbiome data analyses.  The two days of presentations were made to students, postdocs and faculty at the Durban University of Technology, and was co-sponsored by the NIAID funded JCVI Genomic Center for Infectious Disease.  On day one, the JCVI team provided an introductory lecture on microbiomes and technical considerations to plan and conduct microbiome related projects. The lecture followed up with an introduction to sequencing technologies and bioinformatics tools to analyze 16S rRNA next generation sequencing data.  The day one session ended up with a lecture on the differences between metagenomics and 16S rRNA sequencing and analyses pipelines and one on one advising with students and faculty on how to analyze and plan their own projects.

On day two the JCVI team provided a hands-on tutorial where students analyzed a time series of mouse microbiome data.  Students learned each step of working with a 16S rRNA dataset, from processing raw reads to statistical analysis and figure generation.  The morning started with a practical exercise processing 16S reads using mothur to assign taxonomic classification.  In the afternoon students used the output from the mothur workshop to learn about analyzing data in R.  Students explored alpha and beta diversity as well as indicator species analysis and statistical significance of their findings.  The hands-on workshop concluded with various ways to display 16S microbiome data in publication quality figures.

The students were very enthusiastic and active participants in the lectures and hands on units. It is our sincere hope that the workshop helps them to expand their research and data analysis capabilities in the future.

Our hosts, Drs. Suren Singh and Nokuthula Mchunu, sent along nice messages in appreciation for the event:

Have no words to pass the amount of appreciation the student and the supervisors had for the workshop. Andres, Derek and Alex were fantastic in the delivery of the material and having time to address every question we were asking. We hope that we can have another sometime in the future and if we had choice we would pick them. Thank you again.
- Dr. Nokuthula Mchunu

Thank you for sending out a wonderful, and extremely knowledgeable team to ignite one of many workshops at DUT. It was truly a great exposure for many of my students and staff. They enjoyed the theoretical and hands on sessions alike. Let’s continue this association for many more years ahead.

- Dr. Suren Singh

What Does It Really Mean to Be a Scientist?

In the spring of 2016, JCVI partnered with Del Lago Academy to provide internships for some of its students.

Junior Stephanie Mountain shares about her experience and what her time at JCVI taught her:

Being an intern at JCVI was an amazing experience I will never forget. I learned so much through this internship that I would have been unable to learn in school. I learned a lot about coding and the importance of using computers to analyze data that is generated in the lab. Through my classes at Del Lago I had a good amount of hands on lab experience, but this internship was completely different than anything else I had done previously. It exposed me to the opposite side of scientific research, the kind that isn’t in the lab. I had very minimal computer skills at the start, but now I know how to run command prompt, a little bit on two coding languages, R and Perl, and how to use the Mothur program to run data analysis.

Stephanie with her JCVI mentors, Drs. Zhong and Zhu, and her Del Lago teacher Marc Kibler.

Stephanie with her JCVI mentors, Drs. Zhong and Zhu, and her Del Lago teacher Marc Kibler.

It was really fun to work with my mentors and “help” them analyze their data. Granted, they probably could have done everything much faster and with less problems than me, but it helped me see what happens in a day of the life of a researcher. Before this internship, I wanted to be a scientific researcher, but in my mind that meant doing strictly wet lab stuff. Now, I know that being a scientific researcher means a lot more than I had previously though. All of the computer stuff I did was really fun and cool, and it kind of surprised me how much math was involved in all of the computer things. I’m definitely going to take some computer science classes in college if I get the opportunity to. The math associated with computers seems really challenging and fun, and a lot less like a black box where I press buttons and the computer gives me stuff I want.

Overall, this internship has been eye opening to a new side of scientific research I didn’t know existed. All of the things I learned were really interesting and new. I now know that I really would love to be a scientific researcher in the future.

Junior Janine Vasquez worked with Dr. Orianna Bretschger, Dr. Sofia Babanova, and Jason Jones to research the development of microbial fuel cells for wastewater treatment. One big part of that research…pig poop!

I first want to thank everyone for allowing us to have the privilege to work with JCVI. I learned so much throughout this internship and I was able to get a lot of hands-on experience. During this internship, I learned the process of collecting data, running tests and analyzing the results. Our project was to run COD tests to see how different amounts of NaCL would affect the COD readings.

When we first arrived at the farm at San Pasqual, I did not know what I would be doing. When I found out that one of my tasks was to blend pig feces, I was really surprised. At first it was hard because I was still getting used to the smell but after a while, I surprisingly was not bothered by the fact that I was blending pig feces in a blender. I really enjoyed getting the experience of working in the farm and the lab. Some of my friends who also worked in a lab setting only got one side of the experience. Anabel and I were able to experience more than one working setting and I found that interesting.

One thing that I felt was kind of challenging was actually meeting new people. I am not really a social person but I tried to get out of my comfort zone; in the end, I got to meet great people. This internship really made me think about my future. I’ve always had this mindset that people in this industry only work in labs all day and I realized that is not true. I was actually relieved to find out that projects like these have you working in all kinds of places because I like trying different things and working in different work settings. This experience made me realize that this is something that I may want to do in the future.

JCVI is committed to helping youth pursue careers in science. To join our efforts, please contact Education Manager Amani Rushing at arushing@jcvi.org.

JCVI’s Scientists Inspire the Next Generation!

JCVI’s Education Program has been working to bring science to life (sometimes literally!) for San Diego’s students.

It started off March 4 with our participation in President Obama’s recently announced science education initiative “Take Your Child to the Lab” week. Nine children of JCVI’s staff visited the Institute for a tour and hands-on science experiment.

The morning started with a talk from JCVI’s La Jolla Campus Director, Mark Adams. Dr. Adams began by asking the kids, “What are you curious about?” This prompted a flurry of enthusiastic responses. “At JCVI,” he continued, “That’s what we – and your parents – do. We’re curious. We ask questions that no one has answered and then we try to figure out answers.”

JCVI scientists Phil Weyman and Nicole Yee talk about synthetic biology and bacteria cultures.

JCVI scientists Phil Weyman and Nicole Yee talk about synthetic biology and bacteria cultures.

Next, the children heard about some of the specific questions we’re asking and answering at JCVI from synthetic biology with Dr. Phillip Weyman to waste water treatment with Kayla Carpenter to bacteria growth and antibiotic testing with Nicole Yee and Manny Torralba. They also went on a tour of JCVI’s sustainable lab led by Dr. Robert Friedman. He helped the children think not only about doing science, but the impact of doing science. “It’s really cool that the building is made out of recycled materials,” said eleven-year old Charlie Myers. “I’ve never seen anything like that!”

Before leaving, our young guests tried their own hands at culturing bacteria by gathering samples from the environment around them. Over the next week they’ll be monitoring their samples to see what happens next!

The children take bacteria samples and show off their experiments.

The children take bacteria samples and show off their experiments.

The San Diego Festival of Science & Engineering

The very next day, JCVI was once again sharing our passion for science with the San Diego community. The JCVI Mobile Lab was one of 143 exhibitors participating in the 2016 San Diego Festival of Science & Engineering’s free Expo Day. Approximately 500 visitors boarded the mobile lab and learned about sequencing, marine microbes, using DNA in forensics, and the human microbiome. Volunteers Andres Gomez, Marcus Jones, Drishti Kaul, Ebony Miller, Aubrie O’Rourke, Joey Steward, Michelle Tull and Angela Zoumpliswowed group after group by sharing about JCVI’s research.

Drishti Kaul and Aubrie O’Rourke guide festival attendees through JCVI’s Mobile Laboratory.

Drishti Kaul and Aubrie O’Rourke guide festival attendees through JCVI’s Mobile Laboratory.

“Can this mobile lab come to my child’s school?” more than one parent wanted to know. The JCVI Education Program would love to make that a reality. Contact Education Manager Amani Rushing at arushing@jcvi.org to talk about supporting the mobile lab your community!

Zoo in You: The Human Microbiome Exhibit Opens in San Diego

On January 28, over 250 scientists, philanthropists and other STEM community notables, including JCVI CEO Council Member Reena Horowitz, came out to support the San Diego premier of the Zoo in You: The Human Microbiome exhibit at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. The Zoo in You is a new 2,000 sq. ft. exhibit funded by a SEPA grant from NIH in partnership with JCVI. Through May 8, 2016 visitors to the display can learn about our constant microbial companions, where they live, how diverse they are, and in what ways scientists are realizing just how important they are to our personal health.

Dr. Karen Nelson

JCVI’s President, Karen Nelson, Ph.D., spoke about JCVI’s passion for STEM education and dedication to encouraging STEM growth in San Diego.

JCVI at Zoo in You Opening

JCVI staff and friends came out to support the event (from left to right): Hernan Lorenzi, Katie Collins, Karen Beeri, Amani Rushing, CEO Council Member Reena Horowitz, Nicole Deberg, Mark Adams.

Thanks to new, sophisticated technology and the cutting-edge research of the National Institutes of Health’s Human Microbiome Project, the world is just starting to discover what the microbes in each of us are up to and how they affect us.

JCVI is taking other steps to help the San Diego community learn about the importance of their microbiomes. In addition to the exhibit, JCVI scientist Karen Beeri led a class of 23 girls in activities about microbes and DNA sequencing at Fleet’s Saturday Science Club for Girls on February 13. The girls toured the Zoo in You exhibit, made DNA bracelets, and used RNA decoders to decode the secret messages found in our amino acids.

Zoo in You: The Human Microbiome will be on display at Fleet until May 8, 2016. Check it out!

For more information about JCVI’s education initiatives, please contact Education Manager Amani Rushing at arushing@jcvi.org.

JCVI Promotes Science Literacy in the U.S.

Welcomes New Education Manager Amani Rushing

The issue of our society’s science literacy continues to circulate through the media. Recently, reporters focused on results of the Pew Research Center’s Science Knowledge Quiz, which indicates that most Americans would score a grade of C on a basic science test. The gender and racial gaps revealed by the study were equally discouraging.

“Our planet is in crisis, and we need to mobilize all our intellectual forces to save it. One solution could lie in building a scientifically literate society in order to survive.”-  J. Craig Venter, 2015.

This latest examination of what we know about science literacy follows a report by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2014 that 26 percent of its respondents were unaware the Earth revolves around the sun. Results from that report on the more controversial topics of climate change and evolution also left scientists and science educators cringing.

San Diego High Tech Fair

On board JCVI’s DiscoverGenomics Mobile Lab at the San Diego High Tech Fair 2015

San Diego High Tech Fair

JCVI’s Dr. Orianna Bretschger greet the public at the San Diego High Tech Fair 2015

Rapid developments in science and technology continually raise new questions for the public debate.  JCVI believes that it is critical that today’s students have an understanding of the basic facts and concepts of science. It is equally important that these students have an understanding of how ideas are investigated and analyzed so that they can develop a perspective on any issue up for discussion. We need to cultivate the next generation of scientists, and we need to ensure that these same generations who may not pursue the sciences formally remain informed and knowledgeable voters.

JCVI has been committed to K-12 and teacher science education since 1999 and is expanding its role in addressing the science literacy challenge. We recently hired Amani Rushing as our Education Manager.  Amani, a graduate of Stanford University, comes to JCVI from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC). Prior to NCMEC, Amani worked as a Project Coordinator in the Education and Human Resources Division of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).  Amani brings ten years of experience of developing and delivering education and training programs for educators and families. She will continue to expand JCVI’s reputation in the STEM education field and will manage and expand the following JCVI education initiatives:

  • DiscoverGenomics! Mobile Lab (DG!). Established in 2006, DG! is a self-sufficient laboratory/learning center on wheels that provides middle school students and teachers the opportunity to learn current bioscience concepts and to master the use of laboratory equipment.  JCVI is committed to getting DG! back on the road again in San Diego.  We are actively seeking funding for DG! for the 2016/2017 school year.  Your name or corporate logo could be on display as DG! travels to San Diego area schools.
  • Internship Program. The Internship Program provides opportunities to inspire young scientists and other science professionals to work in all areas of the Institute. Interns are assigned to a mentor who is a member of the Institute’s faculty or senior staff. This past summer, JCVI welcomed 24 high school students, college students, and high school science educators to our Rockville and La Jolla campuses. Interns on both coasts worked on fascinating projects on everything from helping to develop a high throughput sequencing and analysis pipeline to establishing a CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system in M. mycoides.
  • Genomics Scholars Program. The Genomics Scholars Program (GSP) is a transition program focusing on the leap from a community college to a four-year college using a combination of activities including undergraduate research experience with mentoring and professional development. Our program incorporates multiple avenues of support for students through a multi-year research experience with the Principal Investigators as mentors, and supplemental professional development provided by the JCVI. Selected students can also participate in undergraduate research conferences.
  • Zoo in You. Zoo in You is a new 2,000 square foot bilingual (English and Spanish) traveling exhibition that will engage visitors in the cutting edge research of the NIH Human Microbiome Project and explore the impact of the microbiome on human health. The first stop on the tour will be the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego, CA in 2016. JCVI will work with Fleet to introduce the exhibit to the San Diego community and raise public understanding of the science behind the microbiome.

For more information about our efforts and opportunities to partner with JCVI, please contact Amani Rushing at arushing@jcvi.org.

Johns Hopkins Announces Inaugural Recipient of Hamilton Smith Award for Innovative Research

JCVI’s Hamilton O. Smith, MD has been recognized by Johns Hopkins University with a research award in his honor. The inaugural recipient of the award is Jie Xiao, an associate professor of biophysics and biophysical chemistry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dr. Smith was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1978 for his discovery of restriction enzymes, work he conducted while he was a young faculty member at Johns Hopkins.

Zoo in You Exhibit Now Open

Did you know trillions of microbes make their homes inside your body? In fact, these microorganisms outnumber our human cells 10 to 1, “colonize” us right from birth, and are so interwoven into our existence that without each other, none of us would survive! Thanks to new sophisticated technology and the cutting-edge research of the Human Microbiome Project, we are just starting to discover what these microbes are up to and how they affect us. And now in Zoo in You: The Human Microbiome, a new 2,000 square foot bilingual traveling exhibit created in partnership between JCVI and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI), and funded by a SEPA grant from the NIH, visitors can now explore this fascinating and complex world inside us that is our microbiome—a dynamic, adaptable, and delicately balanced ecosystem like any other found in nature.

A few of the Zoo in You components including “Weather Reports” and “Microbes in the Family”

A few of the Zoo in You components including “Weather Reports” and “Microbes in the Family”

The exhibition features 15 interactive, free floating hands on components that are designed to focus on three overarching topic areas to educate and inform visitors on the concept that our bodies are complex ecosystems that we are just starting to understand and explore.  Through these exhibit components museum goers will “meet the microbes” to learn about the organisms which live on and inside us from the moment we are born, to understanding the importance of the dynamic and delicately balanced human microbiome in “balanced ecosystems”, and lastly visitors will “explore the microbiome” to learn the importance of scientific research to increase our understanding of human health.

Zoo In You introduction component “Meet the Microbes”

Zoo In You introduction component “Meet the Microbes”

There are numerous interactive, hands on activities for visitors.  Such activities include “Weather Reports” where guests will have the opportunity to interact with green screen technology to give a weather report on the climate conditions of your nose, gut or skin.  They also will be able to build a DNA Puzzle where they race against the clock to assemble a DNA strand and participate in a hand washing contest.   Participants can challenge each other in exhibit components such as “Microbes in Balance”, a large touch screen video game to see if they can keep their “health-o-meter” in balance and in “Microbe Mirror” a motion sensing activity where visitors come face to face with their full body reflection and control the changes in their microbiome as they react to everyday occurrences.  Throughout the exhibit components feature contributions by JCVI Scientists Dr. Karen E. Nelson, Dr. Hernan A. Lorenzi, and Dr. Ramana Madupu including “Stories & Choices” an activity where visitors listen to the scientist interviews and make choices based on various fun questions which relate to microbiome research.

The Zoo in You exhibit is now on display at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland, OR through July 2015, it will then travel to Science Works Hands-On Museum in Ashland, OR October through December 2015.  It will begin its national tour at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in San Diego, CA in partnership with JCVI.

Animal Forensics and Molecular Biology Techniques

A one-day high school workshop for New Hampton School’s Project Week

Hosted by the J. Craig Venter Institute, Rockville, Maryland – March 11, 2015

Every March, the New Hampton School, an independent high school in New Hampshire, holds Project Week, an experiential learning program that allows students to choose from a wide array of unique activities, both on and off campus.  This year, one project group traveled to Washington D.C. to complete a program on forensic biology, which included activities at both the Crime Museum and the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI).

On Wednesday, March 11, 2015, ten high school students and two teachers visited JCVI to learn about molecular biology techniques and animal forensics.  Their activities were coordinated by Dr. Karla Stucker, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Virology Group at JCVI, and included a review of DNA structure and replication, a tour of the Institute, lessons about PCR and gel electrophoresis techniques, hands-on laboratory exercises, and a discussion about animal forensics with case examples.  Dr. Suchismita Chandran, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Synthetic Biology Group at JCVI, assisted with the laboratory exercises.

Animal Forensics Discussion with Dr. Karla Stucker. Photo courtesy New Hampton School.

Animal Forensics Discussion with Dr. Karla Stucker. Photo courtesy of New Hampton School.

Upon arrival, each participant “adopted” a dog for the day by picking from various photos of different pure-bred and mixed breed dogs. They thus became dog owners living in an upscale apartment complex in Bethesda, where they were required to submit cheek swab samples from their pets to be entered into a DNA database. Our gel electrophoresis experiment was designed to reveal which dog owner(s) failed to pick up after their pet(s) by checking for a match between cheek swab samples and a stool sample.  The test made use of size differences in PCR amplicons from a hypothetical microsatellite marker that helps distinguish dog breeds.  We also discussed more serious animal forensic cases, including those involving wildlife trafficking and the recent case of a poisoned show dog at Crufts, a large dog show in the UK.

Dr. Suchi Chandran assists students with a hand-on gel electrophoresis activity. Photo courtesy of New Hampton School.

Dr. Suchi Chandran assists students with a hand-on gel electrophoresis activity. Photo courtesy of New Hampton School.

Each day, the students blog about their experiences.  One student, Amy, wrote, “We saw many young and passionate researchers working hard in their labs, which made us feel excited and got us looking forward to being scientists. The lab room was clean, organized and bright. We were not allowed to touch anything without gloves due to personal protection. After visiting, we have a better understanding of how scientists’ workplaces should look like, and their rigorous attitudes towards science.”

2015 Advanced Genomics, Metagenomics, and Bioinformatics Workshop Wrap-up

I was lucky enough to help set up and plan a workshop covering genomics, metagenomics, proteomics and bioinformatics at the University of the West Indies campus in St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago on February 19th and 20th. The workshop was sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases through the Genomic Center for Infectious Diseases cooperative agreement. UWI was a co-sponsor and a gracious host. Participants included 60 individuals from Trinidad, England, Guyana and Barbados. On-line participants were from all over the world including Gambia, Ethiopia, Kenya, India, USA, and the Caribbean.


file-pdf Workshop Slides (PDF – 29MB)


The team of presenters from the JCVI included Karen Nelson, Bill Nierman, Andrey Tovchigrechko, Rembert Pieper, and Shibu Yooseph.  Presenters from UWI included Drs. Christine Carrington and Adesh Ramsubhag.

Karen opened the workshop with a welcome message and overview. She has been a driving force behind the growing relationship between UWI and JCVI. Bill delivered very interesting talks on the history of research on the human microbiome and currently emerging infectious diseases. Rembert handled a presentation and tutorial on proteomic analysis strategies, which was a big hit. If time was not a factor, the question and answer period could have lasted longer than his talk. Finally, Andrey and Shibu presented and gave lessons on statistics, UNIX, and bioinformatics analyses for genomics, metagenomics, and microbiome work.

Dr. Carrington’s presentation on infectious diseases in Trinidad focused on Dengue Fever and Chickungunya, and dovetailed quite nicely with Bill’s presentation on emerging infectious diseases.

Dr. Ramsubhag described the results of his work examining the bacterial diversity of the Nariva Swamp in Trinidad, which uncovered many unique bacterial strains. Perhaps the most important portion of his talk described how important this type of workshop/collaboration is for UWI. Lessons from subject matter experts are invaluable to the undergraduate, graduate and faculty members that attended the workshop as students. In addition, Dr. Ramsuhbag described how a relationship that started through a workshop has given UWI access to cutting edge technologies and data analysis strategies that would be otherwise unavailable without the collaboration with the JCVI.

The students that attended the workshop were all very enthusiastic and eager to learn. They seemingly hung on every word from the presenters, and paid very close attention during the presentations and hands on informatics sessions. A few attendees even asked us to make the lunch break shorter so that the workshop time could be lengthened…but we needed that time to break down the video equipment, haul it to another building and set it up for the afternoon classes. It was a pleasure to help make this learning experience possible for the workshop students!

The workshop was the second time that staff from the JCVI have presented at the St. Augustine Campus of UWI. Tim Stockwell held an 8 hour workshop focused on viruses in 2013.  We look forward to working together in the future.

Special thanks to Tim Stayeas for handling all of the technology associated with on-line broadcasts of the meeting.

Watch all four training sessions below:

Day 1, AM Session

Day 1, PM Session

Day 2, AM Session

Day 2, PM Session

International Bioinformatics Workshop

20th International Bioinformatics Workshop on Virus Evolution & Molecular Epidemiology (VEME) on behalf of the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology

The International Bioinformatics Workshop on VEME workshop is recognized as one of the best virus bioinformatics courses in the world and has so far been organized in Belgium, Brazil, Finland, Greece, Portugal, the USA, South Africa, The Netherlands, Serbia and Italy. The 20th edition will be held 9 – 14 August 2015 at the University of the West Indies (UWI) in Trinidad and Tobago. The workshop is co-organized by the UWI, J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) and the University of Leuven.

The workshop will provide intensive training in the mathematical principles and computer applications used in the study virus evolution and for conducting detailed molecular epidemiological investigations. The workshop will include lectures and computer practical session where students will have the opportunity to analyze their own research data. Teachers will include 24 world-renowned researchers (including Richard Scheuermann, Tim Stockwell and Karen E. Nelson from JCVI).

Note: the application deadline has been extended to March 29, 2015.

Detailed information and online applications may be accessed at:

http://rega.kuleuven.be/cev/veme-workshop/2015

OR

http://www.icgeb.org/trinidad-and-tobago-veme-bioinformatics-2015.html