Stephen Koury and students.

Stephen T. Koury, PhD, works with Le Roy High School students on genome sequencing of bacteria as part of an NIH grant.

NIH Grant Helps Teenagers Perform Genome Sequencing

Published April 2, 2022

Stephen T. Koury, PhD, research associate professor of biotechnical and clinical laboratory sciences, has been awarded a $1.3 million grant that will allow high school students and teachers the opportunity to perform genome sequencing of bacteria.

Partnership Benefits from NIH Award

“It’s kind of special, because at least at the time we wrote this proposal, there was no other high school experience that was going to be able to use this technology to sequence a whole genome and have the ability to do the analysis.”
Research associate professor of biotechnical and clinical laboratory sciences
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“The Metagenomics Education Partnership: Harnessing the Power of Microbial Genome Sequencing and Big Data with High School Students and Teachers” is the title of the Science Education Partnership Award, which is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The new grant continues a partnership between the Department of Biotechnical and Clinical Laboratory Sciences, the New York State Area Health Education Center System, UB’s Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics & Life Sciences (CBLS) and the Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper with schools across a 14-county region of Western New York.

Oxford Nanopore MinION Sequencing Technology Used

The project, which was delayed a year due to COVID-19, is finishing the first year of the five-year grant.

Participants will be among the first high school students and teachers to use third generation Oxford Nanopore MinION sequencing technology.

Teachers and students from two schools — Research Laboratory High School in the Buffalo Public Schools and Le Roy High School in Genesee County — took part in pilot training sessions in the summer of 2021. Kira Mioducki and Dawn Weihrich are the Research Laboratory teachers, while Michael Chiulli (a New York State Master Teacher) is the Le Roy teacher.

Samples Taken From Ellicott, Oatka Creeks

Students from Research Laboratory went to Broderick Park in Buffalo and collected water samples.

“They differentially filtered the samples to collect bacteria and they extracted the metagenomic DNA,” Koury says. “They determined what combination of genus and species bacteria were in the water by doing the sequencing analysis on that sample.”

Students at Le Roy collected their samples at Oatka Creek.

“Oatka Creek runs through a lot of dairy farmland, so there may be some nitrogen runoff there. The idea is to look at the species that are there and try to correlate it with what’s known about the geology and the chemistry of those bodies of water,” Koury says.

Science students.

Le Roy High School students show their enthusiasm for their project as they give a thumbs-up sign.

Unique Experience for Students, Teachers

The grant was to run through 2025, but due to the pandemic, Koury will apply for a no-cost one-year extension.

“The idea was we would do the pilot teachers first and get the procedures in place, and in the next four years we would have different teachers from different schools,” Koury says.

He hopes to have 10 teachers per year take part, with each teacher bringing along 10 students. That means 100 students a year and 500 total will be able to take part.

“It’s hands-on experience — it’s real science. The students don’t know what they’re going to find,” Koury says. “It’s kind of special, because at least at the time we wrote this proposal, there was no other high school experience that was going to be able to use this technology to sequence a whole genome and have the ability to do the analysis.”

“Congratulations to Dr. Koury and everyone associated with this award. This program will give hundreds of high school students the opportunity to perform high-level research,” says Allison Brashear, MD, UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “It can provide the spark needed to get students in Western New York high schools to pursue careers in research science.”

There are two training sessions scheduled this summer — June 27-July 1 and Aug. 1-5.

Norma J. Nowak, PhD, professor of biochemistry and executive director of the CBLS, is co-investigator on the grant.

Others from the CBLS contributing to the project are:

  • Jonathan E. Bard, senior programmer and bioinformatics analyst
  • Sandra K. Small, PhD, science education manager
  • Natalie Anne Lamb, PhD, project programmer/analyst

Khaled ElShorbagy, who earned a master’s degree in biotechnical and clinical laboratory sciences in 2021, and Xinyi Yu and Zilin Lu, biotechnology Bachelor of Science undergraduate supervised research students in biotechnical and laboratory sciences, have also contributed to the project.