Our project is designed (1) to sequence microorganisms from environmental samples in Kansas and (2) to examine the utility of DNA sequencing applications in forensic biology. Drs. John Mullican and Andrew Herbig and their undergraduate student researchers will collect samples from water and soil and then sequence selected organisms from those samples. Mullican studies small, free-living amebae, while Herbig is interested in the viruses that infect certain bacteria. Dr. Josh Smith and his students will examine how DNA sequence information can be used in forensics to supplement current DNA fingerprinting profiles.
Knowing the DNA sequence of living organisms helps biologists understand many aspects of how organisms function and how they are related to one another. Many of us are aware of the human genome sequencing companies 23andMe and Ancestry.com that perform some level of genetic analysis providing insights into an individual's ancestry as well as some potential health information. These companies determine the sequence of less than 0.1 percent of a person’s DNA (their “genome”), which only gives a snapshot of information.
DNA sequencing technologies are becoming more affordable all the time and the ability to sequence entire genomes (100 percent of the DNA, not 0.1 percent) is now becoming more doable in shorter amounts of time. A relatively new technology, recently developed by a company in the UK, provides the ability to sequence entire genomes in around 48 hours. The instrument, called a minION, is small (about the size of a USB drive), portable and able to perform long sequencing reads. The data generated will be used for both teaching and research. The minION starter kit containing 4 flow cells is about $5,000. This is significantly cheaper than large, dedicated DNA sequencing instruments. Depending on the size of the genomes being sequenced, flow cells may be reused a number of times.
We propose to purchase the minION starter kit, bringing this technology to Washburn University. Exposing our students to this cutting-edge technology will provide our students an advantage and may make them more competitive for jobs or graduate school following graduation. A further goal is to eventually bring this technology into the classroom giving a larger number of students access to this technology.