Mitchell students isolate new viruses

A class of Mitchell Community College Biology students recently presented findings from their semester-long research project focusing on finding, extracting, purifying and isolating viruses (also known as phages) from the soil that are new to science. This research project is a part of the Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science (SEA-PHAGES) program, a national initiative administered by the University of Pittsburgh and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Science Education division.


Students were able to name their phage, obtain pictures of their phage, take essential measurements and gather other data to assist with learning more about the new virus. Two of the seven phages isolated by the Mitchell students were selected by a group of peers and college employees to be sent to the University of Pittsburgh for DNA sequencing. In the spring semester, students will learn about the behavior of these new phages by peering into the viral genome.


The phages selected for DNA sequencing were Piperis (students Annica Teasley and Ryan Kistemaker) and LaviMo (students Alyssa Moliis and Lavender Cook). The research process provided students with in-depth hands-on learning, providing educational opportunities different from a traditional classroom. “This semester was so much fun,” said Annica Teasley of the Piperis team. “I learned so many new things without realizing I was learning. My partner and I experienced lots of failure in the lab. Getting to the point of isolating a purified phage, however, was worth the frustration.” Partner Ryan Kistemaker agreed, adding, “I am looking forward to next semester and being able to understand Piperis more by investigating it’s DNA.”


In January 2018, Mitchell Community College was selected to take part in Cohort 11 of SEA-PHAGES, allowing Mitchell to offer nationally renowned undergraduate research opportunities to students. The program began at Mitchell in the Fall 2018 semester. SEA-PHAGES, an undergraduate research program focused in the biological sciences, currently includes 147 colleges and universities in their network. Mitchell is the eighth school to join from North Carolina and only the second community college (the first, Durham Technical Community College). The program is designed to immerse students in authentic, valuable and accessible research.


As a part of the program, the college will partner with North Carolina institutions such as N.C. State University and Western Carolina University as well as tier-one research institutions across the United State such as Johns Hopkins University, Ohio State University and Virginia Tech. Parks Collins and Justin Leonard, Biology instructors at Mitchell, led the initiative to apply for inclusion in the SEA–PHAGES program’s Cohort 11 in order to expand opportunities for students to learn and develop as scientists. “Viruses make up the largest component of biomass on the planet, but we know so little about them. By isolating and sequencing viruses that infect soil bacteria,” Collins explained, “students will develop a sense of project ownership and be engaged in original research.” For more information on the SEA–PHAGES program at Mitchell, contact Parks Collins at (704) 878-3343 or