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Lycoming College professor receives Fulbright grant to teach DNA analysis in South Africa

Lycoming College professor receives Fulbright grant to teach DNA analysis in South Africa

Jeff Newman

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Jeff Newman, Ph.D., professor of biology at Lycoming College, has been selected for a Fulbright Grant to help increase the use of cutting-edge technology for DNA analysis in South Africa and to further the use of the technology in the field of bacterial classification.

During 2018, Newman will teach a graduate level course in microbial genomics, lead faculty development workshops and conduct research on novel bacterial species at University of the Free State (UFS) in Bloemfontein, South Africa. The Fulbright Scholar Program is funded by the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

Newman’s research focuses on studying the genome, or DNA, of an organism. The DNA stores information about how and when an organism produces proteins that carry out various functions and contribute to particular traits. Because a single bacterium has about 4,000,000 pieces of information arranged into about 4,000 genes, technology has greatly simplified the ability to identify how genes work. Newman’s specialty is in phylogenomics, which integrates genetic findings into the field of microbial classification and naming.

Advances in DNA sequencing technology have revolutionized many areas of biology. Training is essential to build the capacity for genomic analysis in Sub-Saharan Africa where this new technology can provide renewed opportunities for discovery. The ability to work with large amounts of DNA sequence data is now as important to a 21st-century biologist as the ability to use a microscope.

Newman will be working with Celia Hugo, Ph.D., UFS microbiology professor, whose research group studies bacteria from the same family as many of the novel species discovered by Newman’s microbiology students. Over the past decade, Newman’s microbiology students have discovered more than 100 novel types of bacteria. Hugo’s experience with these type of organisms will provide additional insight and suggest new approaches and experiments with these organisms. He also will help her edit and review papers submitted to the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology (IJSEM) where she serves on the editorial board.

Through increased involvement with the field, Newman will model best practices for other research groups to incorporate genomics into their investigations, even in low-resource settings.

“This experience will help me appreciate the different perspectives that diverse students bring to an institution,” said Newman, who attended a microbiology conference in India with students in 2016. “My involvement with researchers around the world and the upcoming year in South Africa will have a profound influence on topics I emphasize in future courses.

“Lycoming College will also benefit from having a connection to South Africa for exploring study abroad and exchange opportunities in the sciences as well as other disciplines,” he said.

A major component of Lycoming College’s strategic plan is to increase the number of enhanced academic experiences like study abroad, internships and research. Building the relationship with the South African university will expand the diversity of Lycoming’s study abroad affiliations. The opportunity to bring South African students to Lycoming and vice-versa will enhance the understanding of globalization and appreciation for diverse perspectives in students at both institutions.

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