Phage Hunters: A course that advances the undergraduate research experience at ASU

Course-based Undergraduate Research Experiences (CUREs) train, support undergrads during early research careers


November 14, 2022

Most students are drawn to STEM disciplines because of their passion for the sciences and strong drive to affect meaningful change in the world. However, the leap from passion to experienced researcher is not always a simple one. Many students don’t know where to start in gaining their own research experiences, and putting together resumes and applications for graduate schools or industry positions can often feel very intimidating.

Mentoring programs provide vital support as students navigate these challenges. Assistant Professor Susanne Pfeifer from the School of Life Sciences has developed a Course-based Undergraduate Research Experience (CURE) called Phage Hunters to give students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the laboratory and publish meaningful research.  ASU undergrad standing next to a poster at a conference. Undergraduate researcher Sarah Weiss presented her CURE program research at the Annual Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology. Photo courtesy Susanne Pfeifer Download Full Image

"As part of this CURE, students gain hands-on and marketable experience with genomic data generation and analysis, and they design science-outreach projects to share this work with the community, for example, at local grade schools," Pfeifer said.  

The CURE program is supported by the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program and by Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science.

Since it started in fall 2019, 71 undergraduate students with different backgrounds and experience levels have joined the CURE program. Students from various departments, including the School of Life Sciences, the School of Molecular Sciences, the School of Politics and Global Studies and the School of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, have participated. 

Pfeifer believes that diversity in research is vital. 

“I firmly believe that undergraduates play an important role in vibrant (and in our case interdisciplinary) research environments as research teams collectively benefit from the enriching differences in our experiences, perspectives and ways of thinking," she said. 

Phage Hunter Fall cohort

Students of the fall 2022 cohort investigating bacteriophage genomic diversity. Photo Courtesy Susanne Pfeifer

Pfeifer investigates genetic and evolutionary processes across different species, from single individuals to whole population dynamics. With this course, she has opened the doors of her laboratory to undergraduate students ready to step up their research careers. 

"Each semester, the topics may vary, but in general, students will learn computational genomics techniques to better understand the evolution and genetics of bacteria-infecting viruses (i.e., bacteriophages)," she said. 

Thanks to their experience in the Phage Hunters CURE, undergraduate students, in collaboration with graduate TAs, have published the results of their research in high-impact microbiology journals. Most recently, students published four articles from the spring 2022 session. 

Two articles characterize the genome sequences of the Gordonia bacteriophage BiggityBass and the mycobacteriophage Phegasus, and the other two perform phylogenomic analyses and predict host ranges for all Gordonia terrae cluster DR and cluster P mycobacteriophages known to date. 

For undergraduates, having the opportunity to publish and start building their credentials in academia so early in their careers is priceless. 

"The published research performed by the undergraduates trained and mentored by me in this CURE is just one example of the achievements of our dedicated and talented ASU undergraduates," Pfeifer said. 

The CURE program is open to all undergraduates seeking to advance their research careers. If you are a student interested in joining the CURE program, read more about the research performed in the Pfeifer Lab or contact Pfeifer directly via email. 

Pfeifer is affiliated with the School of Life Sciences, the Biodesign Center for Mechanisms of Evolution and the Center for Evolution and Medicine.

This article was prepared in collaboration with Susanne Pfeifer, School of Life Sciences Graduate Science Writer Anaissa Ruiz-Tejada and School of Life Sciences Manager of Marketing and Communications Dominique Perkins.

Humanities projects receive funding for Latino research and scholarship


November 14, 2022

Three project teams of principal investigators at Arizona State University have received funding from the Crossing Latinidades Humanities Research Initiative, a subaward of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, at the University of Illinois Chicago. 

The working groups are:  People sitting around a table. The Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies working group, Bridging the Shakespeare–Latinx Divide, holds its first meeting. Download Full Image

  • Bridging the Shakespeare–Latinx Divide: Principal Investigators Ruben Espinosa, ASU; Ayanna Thompson, ASU; Kyle Grady, University of California, Irvine; and Joseph Ortiz, University of Texas at El Paso.

  • The Latinx Past: Archive, Memory, Speculation: Principal Investigators Kirsten Silva Gruesz, University of California, Santa Cruz; Vanessa Pérez-Rosario, CUNY Graduate Center and Queens College; and Anita Huizar-Hernández, ASU.

  • Race Laws in the U.S. Southwest: Research Working Group to Document Laws and Their Impacts 1836–Present: Principal Investigators Monica Muñoz Martinez, University of Texas at Austin; Julian Lim, ASU; and Ana Elizabeth Rosas, University of California, Irvine.

    Housed within the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies at ASU, the Bridging the Shakespeare–LatinxA gender-neutral term preferred by some for Latinos and Latinas. Divide working group will collaborate, share research, organize symposia and change the face of early-modern literary studies. 

    The three doctoral fellows in each of the project’s two years will participate in, and curate the speakers and specific themes for, each of the two symposia. In this way, they actively guide the conversations about the value of Latino studies in the ongoing shaping of Shakespeare and early-modern studies for Latino students.  

    The project team’s aim is to show these students why their analyses, performances and adaptations of Shakespeare can transform the field by fostering cross-institutional and cross-regional dialogues within the humanities about national and linguistic identity, immigration, race, ethnicity, economics, ethics, citizenship and social justice — all issues that define, in part, the Latino experience in the U.S. 

    “There is vibrant history of Latina/o/x engagement with Shakespeare — from Teatro Campesino to Cantinflas, from local adaptations in la frontera to major productions at the Public Theater in New York, from the fiction of Emma Perez to that of Arturo Islas,” said Espinosa, associate director at the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and associate professor in the Department of English 

    “This working group will, in part, interrogate how these Latino/a/x intersections with Shakespeare open doors to reimagine not only Shakespeare’s cultural capital, but also the relevance of Latino/a/x studies to humanistic inquiry more broadly.”

    Housed at the University of California, Santa Cruz, The Latinx Past: Archive, Memory, Speculation working group will both study and utilize through practice the geographically dispersed collections of multilingual documents and multimedia objects that constitute the Latino archive. 

    The group aims to produce new modes of thinking about the Latino past by engaging models of temporality that do not presume common origins or unbroken continuities and traditions. Realizing the potential of this grant’s “Crossing Latinidades” theme, it will circulate knowledge among scholars at different career stages who come in with varying regional and ethno-national interests. 

    A group of six core faculty will share with the graduate fellows a scaffolded set of activities that will begin each year with monthly meetings as a reading group, move through multiple virtual and in-person archive visits and culminate in presentations of original work at public symposia. 

    “One of the main goals of our working group is to rethink how we approach the Latinx past not only as scholars but also as teachers,” said Huizar-Hernández, associate professor in the School of International Letters and Cultures

    “I'm especially happy to bring this work to ASU, which is where I began my own studies as an undergraduate many years ago.”

    The Crossing Latinidades Humanities Research Initiative is a product of the new Alliance of Hispanic Serving Research Universities consortium, which includes all 20 Hispanic-Serving Institutions in the U.S. that have the R1 designation. The consortium focuses its efforts on increasing the number of Latino students pursuing doctoral degrees and advancing to academic positions.

    Award recipients will receive $310,000 and support from six doctoral fellows. In addition, each principal investigator will receive one course release per year for two years.

    “ASU’s designation as a Hispanic-Serving Institution recognizes our continual efforts to expand educational access for our diverse student population. I’m thrilled to see faculty throughout the humanities division who are taking this call for inclusion and accessibility to heart by developing new opportunities for Latinx doctoral students,” said Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities at The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. 

    “These fellowships will not only provide these students with essential research experience but will also inform the future of the humanities discipline with their unique perspectives and backgrounds.”

    Leah Newsom contributed to this story. 

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