Background: The revolution in DNA sequencing technology continues unabated, and is affecting all aspects of the biological and medical sciences. The training and recruitment of the next generation of researchers who are able to use and exploit the new technology is severely lacking and potentially negatively influencing research and development efforts to advance genome biology. Here we present a cross-disciplinary course that provides undergraduate students with practical experience in running a next generation sequencing instrument through to the analysis and annotation of the generated DNA sequences.
Results: Many labs across world are installing next generation sequencing technology and we show that the undergraduate students produce quality sequence data and were excited to participate in cutting edge research. The students conducted the work flow from DNA extraction, library preparation, running the sequencing instrument, to the extraction and analysis of the data. They sequenced microbes, metagenomes, and a marine mammal, the Californian sea lion, Zalophus californianus. The students met sequencing quality controls, had no detectable contamination in the targeted DNA sequences, provided publication quality data, and became part of an international collaboration to investigate carcinomas in carnivores.
Conclusions: Students learned important skills for their future education and career opportunities, and a perceived increase in students' ability to conduct independent scientific research was measured. DNA sequencing is rapidly expanding in the life sciences. Teaching undergraduates to use the latest technology to sequence genomic DNA ensures they are ready to meet the challenges of the genomic era and allows them to participate in annotating the tree of life.