An award is made to Villanova University to acquire a next-generation sequencing platform focused on the Illumina MiSeq instrument. This project will support high-impact research programs that span the disciplines of Biology and Biochemistry, and will provide graduate and undergraduate students with hands-on genomics experience using leading-edge technology. Villanova University is a primarily undergraduate institution committed to recruiting and retaining students from underrepresented groups and disadvantaged backgrounds, and students of color accounted for more than 20% of full-time students in 2013. The University also has an impressive retention record, with 6 year graduation rates above 85% for all ethnic groups as of 2013. Ready access to cutting-edge sequencing technology, and to the interdisciplinary genomics and bioinformatics approaches it facilitates, will support the Biology and Chemistry departments in their efforts to attract students from underrepresented groups to STEM careers. This equipment will allow the transformation of undergraduate and Masters genomics education at Villanova, and will be a centerpiece of a new course in genomics. Many Villanova students go on to attend professional schools or Ph.D. programs, and exposure of students to this technology will prepare them for the science and medicine of the future. The PI and co-PIs have an extensive record of mentoring students, including students on peer-reviewed publications, and preparing students for acceptance to top graduate programs, and the MiSeq platform will advance this student-directed research.
The MiSeq platform will advance the research of laboratories with diverse interests that include phylogenomics and phylogeography, evolution and speciation, microbial ecology in response to changing environmental conditions, and the study of bacterial pathogens. This technology will be routinely used in the immediate future by at least 5 research groups in 4 main research areas: 1) Deep sequencing of the mRNA and small RNA transcriptomes will address fundamental questions about how genes are regulated to control responses to stress, nutrient availability, and hormone signaling, and to direct cellular growth and development. These methods will also support investigation of how gene regulation and nutrient signaling are shaped by evolutionary forces. 2) ChIP-Seq and RNA-seq methods will be used to understand changes in transcription and identify transcription factor binding sites in fungal and bacterial species. 3) Targeted sequencing of genomic DNA will be used to resolve uncertainties and increase the resolution of phylogenetic relationships in a variety of squamate (reptile) taxa. The results of these experiments will have important impacts on conservation efforts for these groups, and will advance our understanding of the forces that drive evolution and speciation. 4) Sequencing of both RNA and DNA will be used to investigate soil microbial populations, allowing researchers to address how changes in microbial communities impact plant growth and nutrient cycling in the face of climate change and nutrient pollution.