July 29, 2014

IGERT: A Brown-MBL Collaboration

The IGERT Team at the Plum Island LTER. Photo by David Rand.

Brown and MBL recently received a joint IGERT: Reverse Ecology grant from the National Science Foundation to support a program to train PhDs at the interface of computational biology, genomics and environmental science.

“Reverse Ecology” is the practice of inferring ecological and evolutionary information about organisms and communities from genes and gene sequences in their DNA.

The IGERT proram emphasizes training students in the use of powerful, new genomic approaches that allow the identification of genetic bases of natural functional variation in the environment. Students learn to carry out every step of the process, from DNA extraction to computer analysis of sequence data.

Program highlights include:

1. A year long immersion course focused at Long Term Ecological Research sites where students design an experiment and use high-throughput genomic and computational strategies to test hypotheses, with the goal of preparing and submitting a multi-authored journal article.

2. Jointly-mentored research rotations where students and faculty cross disciplinary boundaries.

3. Career training that integrates grant writing, public speaking, ethics, diversity and international.

There are currently six students in the IGERT program. Brown-MBL PhD candidate Victor Schmidt is one of them. Victor studies the influence microbial community shifts can have on disease development, pathogen transmission, and human and ecosystem health. His current research follows the microbiomes associated with ornamental fish across a trade route, the influence of a sewage outfall in a saltmarsh, and a meta-analyses of human pathogens from previously sequenced datasets of host-associated and environmental samples publicly available on the VAMPS website.