Biology majors Yen Nguyen and Jessica Thawley discovered a new bacteria species during their marine microbiology (MICR 401L) lab in spring 2016. The new species belongs in a genus called Piscirickettsia. The only other known species in that genus causes disease in some fish, but the one Nguyen and Thawley discovered appears to be free-living.
To help formally characterize the new species, Alex Lee a microbiology and English major, joined the 2016 cohort of the NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates program at UH Mānoa. With the assistance of Stuart Donachie of the Department of Microbiology, and Ivy Wan and Shaobin Hou from The Advanced Studies in Genomics, Proteomics, and Bioinformatics, Lee completed a draft of the genome sequence of the new species, which was published in the journal Genome Announcements.
A draft genome sequence may contain gaps, or have parts in the wrong order, so to complete the sequence, Lee was awarded $5,000 by the UH Mānoa Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program. Completing the sequence will provide insights into the evolution of pathogenicity in the genus, and help resolve relationships among the bacteria in the family Piscirickettsiaceae.
—By Tony Hall