Hope College sophomore Carl Deeg of Zionsville, Ind., won first place for a research poster presentation during a national symposium held earlier this summer.

He placed first in the “grand challenge” category during the 2013 Annual SEA-PHAGES (Science Education Alliance-Phage Hunters Advancing Genomics and Evolutionary Science) Symposium held at the Janelia Farm Research Campus of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Ashburn, Va., in June.

The symposium hosted students and faculty mentors from the more than 70 colleges and universities participating in the SEA-PHAGES program.  A total of 12 students from across the nation had submitted posters in the category, through which participating institutions had been challenged to develop an improved analysis method for research.

Developed by HHMI, SEA-PHAGES is a year-long, freshman-level course sequence through which students engage in research by isolating, naming, sequencing and analyzing newly discovered mycobacteriophages.  Hope was one of only 12 institutions nationwide chosen to pilot the program in the fall of 2008.

The course sequence, which at Hope is titled “Freshman Honors Lab: Phage Genomics Research,” begins in the fall with each student studying an individual mycobacteriophage.  A few viruses are chosen in the late fall to be sent to a national genome sequencing center, with the data collected ultimately returned to the class for additional study in the spring.

Across the history of the program, more than 25 distinct groups of viruses have been identified, with some found more commonly than others.  Through the “grand challenge,” the SEA-PHAGES program encouraged participating schools to develop new methods that students could use to determine, as early in the year as possible, the type of virus they isolated, so that those that are rarest can be chosen for additional study.

Deeg’s poster, “Refining Restriction Enzyme Digest Strategies to Identify Cluster Membership of Newly Isolated Mycobacteriophages,” outlined a method developed collaboratively by the students in the 2012-13 course sequence at Hope.

Entering its sixth year at the college this fall, the course is taught by Dr. Aaron Best, who is the Harrison C. and Mary L. Visscher Associate Professor of Genetics at Hope, and Dr. Joseph Stukey, assistant professor of biology.  Stukey attended this year’s conference with Deeg.

Deeg is a computer science major who is conducting collaborative research this summer with Dr. Matthew DeJongh, associate professor of computer science.  He participated in the Phelps Scholars Program during the 2012-13 school year, and during the coming year will be on the Executive Board of the Black Student Union as website coordinator.  He is a 2012 graduate of Zionsville Community High School and the son of Susan Deeg of Zionsville