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Pathways

GEP Regional Node Meeting Virtual

Puerto Rico Regional Node Meeting – February 6 & 8, 2024

On the 6th and the 8th of February of 2024, the Puerto Rico Regional Node had a two-day Pathways Project training with Dr. Laura Reed. Node members met through Zoom each day from 4:30 to 6:00 pm AST (2:30 to 4:00 pm CST). Ten (10) GEP faculty and one (1) undergraduate student participated in the three-hour online training. 

As part of their GEP onboarding, all Puerto Rico Node members have been trained in the F Element annotation methodology. However, few have worked with other GEP Projects. During the 2023 Faculty Workshop, attending Node members expressed an interest in professional development activities that would help them acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in other GEP research activities. A Pathways Project training was identified as a logical next step towards achieving this goal. 

The first session started with an overview of the overarching research questions, implementation ideas and an introduction to the project walkthrough. The second session covered topics such as common annotation mistakes, project claiming and submission protocols, managing report forms, and an overview of the microPublication pipeline. It also offered an opportunity to ask general questions and learn about different Pathways support initiatives. Members of the Puerto Rico Node have a special interest in the Pathways and Puerto Rican Parrot Projects and this training provided valuable knowledge and methodological insights that will serve them well as they venture (with their students) into other GEP annotation projects.

The Puerto Rico Node thanks Pathways Project Leader, Laura Reed, for setting time aside to train the Node members. A special thanks to the Regional Node Director and Co-Director, Melinda Yang and Jenni Kennell for answering many questions, sending helpful follow-up messages, and making sure the Node Leaders had the resources necessary to organize the training. Thanks to Sarah Potts for supporting the event registration, facilitating access to training materials and managing Zoom channel logistics. The planning of the training was a collaborative effort of the Node Leader and Co-Leader, Ángel O Custodio and Sheylda Díaz.

What worked well for your event that might help others plan similar events?

We had an online event during weekdays. This activity didn’t require organizing a venue or having people travel to the meeting location. It served our purpose well. Also, scheduling the training on a date removed from the beginning of the semester promoted faculty participation.

What lessons were learned from challenges in the planning or execution of the event?

Communicate often with headquarters or the Regional Node Directors before sending information to Node members. Also, remember that the Central Office will give the Node support with registrations and surveys.

What would your Node do differently based on your experiences?

Node leaders will write emails to headquarters more often to make sure they are not duplicating efforts doing some transactions that the Central Office can handle with ease. Also, they will set up a local checklist that will help plan and follow-up on certain tasks.

Genomic Neighborhood Check For Understanding

This was created in response to a member mentioning their students really struggled with the genomic neighborhood and the member didn’t realize until they were already too far into the annotation to correct their misconceptions. This is meant to be a quick in-class and/or homework assignment.

GEP New Publication Alert

New GEP Publication on the Pathways Project Annotation Protocol

Abstract

Annotating the genomes of multiple species allows us to analyze the evolution of their genes. While many eukaryotic genome assemblies already include computational gene predictions, these predictions can benefit from review and refinement through manual gene annotation. The Genomics Education Partnership (GEP; https://thegep.org/) developed a structural annotation protocol for protein-coding genes that enables undergraduate student and faculty researchers to create high-quality gene annotations that can be utilized in subsequent scientific investigations. For example, this protocol has been utilized by the GEP faculty to engage undergraduate students in the comparative annotation of genes involved in the insulin signaling pathway in 27 Drosophila species, using D. melanogaster as the reference genome. Students construct gene models using multiple lines of computational and empirical evidence including expression data (e.g., RNA-Seq), sequence similarity (e.g., BLAST and multiple sequence alignment), and computational gene predictions. Quality control measures require each gene be annotated by at least two students working independently, followed by reconciliation of the submitted gene models by a more experienced student. This article provides an overview of the annotation protocol and describes how discrepancies in student submitted gene models are resolved to produce a final, high-quality gene set suitable for subsequent analyses. The protocol can be adapted to other scientific questions (e.g., expansion of the Drosophila Muller F element) and species (e.g., parasitoid wasps) to provide additional opportunities for undergraduate students to participate in genomics research. These student annotation efforts can substantially improve the quality of gene annotations in publicly available genomic databases.
GEP Regional Node Meeting Virtual

MN/IA/Dakotas Regional Node Meeting – September 30, 2022

The Minnesota, Iowa, and Dakotas Regional Node held a virtual meeting on September 30, 2022. The meeting began with introductions, laughs, and updates. Dr. Andy Arsham was the highlighted speaker from Bemidji State University. He gave an engaging research seminar on his current work with the Zas-Znf gene family in the Drosophila lineage. The second part of the Node workshop was an open work time and space for questions around advanced gene annotations in the Pathway Project. Two awesome GEP Virtual TAs joined to answer questions while participants worked through the problematic gene Shaggy in Drosophila willistoni. There were many isoforms and the group wanted to know the best way to approach all of the isoforms. This was a great success, and everyone took something new from the knowledgeable TAs. Finally, Node members discussed and planned the student research event for the spring. Save the Date – April 21st, 2023 at Saint Catherine University! The plan is for this event to be an all-day in person event with student presentations, guest speakers, and lots of food. 

Update: The in-person RNM was held on April 21, 2023 and went incredibly well. There were a total of  80 participants (including admin, staff, and STEM faculty from St. Catherine University). 

What worked well for your event that might help others plan similar events?

The Node decided to focus on the Pathways Project. Some of the main objectives of the event was to perform hands-on GEP curriculum training for current GEP members. In particular, members wanted to work on and ask questions about a really difficult gene in the project. The Node Leader sent out information on the gene that would be discussed a day before the workshop. Participants ended up talking through the process and then going through questions.

Pathways Project: Annotation Form

This “Annotation Form” merged the “Annotation Report” and “Annotation Notebook” into a single document and the latter two items were archived.

The “Annotation Form” kept many of the Checks for Understanding type questions that were previously in the “Annotation Notebook.” However, given that not all faculty want their students to answer those questions, we marked any question that is NOT required for submission to the GEP as “OPTIONAL.” Currently the optional questions are organized as letters rather than numbers, which we hope will make it easy to quickly select and delete the OPTIONAL questions that faculty don’t wish to include. Again, all numbered questions are required for submission to the GEP for reconciliation.

Items that were previously asked for in the “Project Details” table of the “Annotation Report” are now available on the Genome Browser Gateway page for each species. Therefore, the “Project Details Table” instructions document is no longer needed.

Carolinas Regional Node Meeting April 22, 2022

Carolinas Regional Node Meeting – April 22, 2022

The Carolinas Regional Node Meeting was held virtually on Friday, April 22, 2022, 9:00am-12:15pm (ET). The meeting kicked off with brief welcome remarks by Jeff French, a Node member from North Greenville University, SC, who also introduced our keynote speaker. Nate Mortimer from Illinois State University, who leads the Parasitoid Wasps Project in the GEP, gave an inspiring talk on “Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Parasitoid Wasps of Drosophila.” We had a break between 9:50-10am to allow for preparation for students’ presentations. Right before diving on these, Marisol Santisteban from UNC at Pembroke, current Carolinas Node leader, gave a brief introduction to the GEP and acquainted attendees with the organization: membership, different modes of participation, and the projects that are currently pursued. 

Engaging presentations by five students from South Wesleyan University (Michelle Eller, advisor) and Appalachian State University (Clare Scott Chialvo, advisor) took us into the intricacies of their projects in the Insulin Signaling Pathways Project and in an emerging new project on detoxification genes, and the challenges of manual annotation of species closely related to D. melanogaster, such as D. immigrants. After a break from 11-11:15, the last hour of the day was a professional development event geared towards students. The “Careers in Genomics” panel hosted 5 experts from different Genomics fields, with different levels of education (not all PhDs), and not all from academia. All panelists were female and from diverse backgrounds. Four of the five panelists also work in North Carolina which shows our Carolinas students that there is a future for them in this field that’s also close to home. Sabrina Powell, Education Program Director of the Precision Medicine in Health Care in the Department of Genetics at UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine generously helped assemble this extraordinary array of experts and prepared a fictional but realistic scenario about a 3-year-old boy diagnosed with autism, who is referred to the UNC Genetics Clinic for further testing. The testing reveals two specific variants in Mateo’s exome, one which is known to cause a specific subtype of autism and another which is associated with a high risk of adult-onset dementia. There was a role for professionals at each of our panelists’ positions:

  • Kate Foreman, CGC, Genetic Counselor (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill);
  • Meghan Halley, PhD, MPH, Senior Research Scholar (Center for Biomedical Ethics, Stanford University);
  • Julie Horvath, PhD, Head of Genomics & Microbiology Research Lab (NC Museum of Natural Sciences) and Research Associate Professor, Biological and Biomedical Sciences (NC Central University);
  • Halina Krzystek, Bioinformaticist, Bioinformatics Data Services, Q-Squared Solutions; and
  • Janae Simons, Bioinformatics Software Developer (Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).


The meeting was attended by 34  people, of which 8 were undergraduate students, and three Community College instructors, two if which had expressed interest in knowing more about GEP and had been invited to New Member Trainings.

Zoom Meeting Room screenshot of participants

What worked well for your event that might help others plan similar events?

Using the opportunity that came with the “online” format we were able to host an outstanding keynote speaker (our very own Nate Mortimer from Illinois State University) and panel of experts in different fields of genomics for our “Careers in Genomics” panel; many were in North Carolina, but we had a person from Stanford. It would not have been possible to assemble this array of experts if it had been an in-person event. I would recommend some “professional development” event for students, like the “Careers in Genomics” panel that we had. We hosted individuals in different fields, with different education degrees (not all PhDs), and not all from academia. I believe the students really found this session interesting and useful. Making a program and emailing it to all participants was a plus and we also emailed certificates to the student presenters which is a nice touch of appreciation.

What lessons were learned from challenges in the planning or execution of the event that might be helpful to others?

It is hard to come up with the “perfect” date. We considered weekday vs. weekend, all day vs. half a day, mid semester vs. late in the semester. We finally settled on a Friday because they tend to be lighter days for students, and only half a day (morning). We did it towards the end of the semester, so students would have made enough progress in their projects to present. Considering that Node meetings will be in-person in the future, I would recommend a weekend, maybe start on Friday evening with posters and maybe the keynote speaker and then talks on Saturday morning and some professional development event. Some people may choose to attend only one day but they won’t be a full day. Or maybe make it a whole day event on Saturday. Keeping some form of hybrid might be useful, especially for the keynote speaker or panels, because that allows inviting speakers that are not geographically close to the Node. 
As far as the execution, it is still hard to keep everyone engaged and have them turn on their cameras and ask questions. So as much as possible, I would recommend holding the student presentations in-person and if online, encourage folks to have their cameras on, and incentivize asking question with some form of reward. We provided a short bio of the panelist in the program that was emailed to the registrants the night before. If possible, do that earlier, so people may think of some questions to ask ahead, and openly ask them to try to do so.


Some students reported not receiving a link for the meeting, but they registered only minutes before the start of the meeting. If you plan to leave the registration open till the very start of the meeting, make sure someone in the Node does a last sweep. Ask the GEP staff to give access to registration to someone in the Node.

Keep the GEP staff in the loop for everything planning, they are incredible resourceful, helpful and efficient!