Thursday, September 1, 2016

Hands-On Virus Hunters

As I mentioned in my state of the university report August 15, our biology students have an extraordinary opportunity to participate in research.

It's the latest example of the unique educational experience at LETU. 

When Blake Maxfeldt arrived as a freshman biology major and baseball pitcher, he didn't know he would get to do hands-on research his first year in college, or that would get his name in the newspaper for finding and naming a new virus. But that's just what he did.

Maxfeldt found a new virus after digging in the dirt in a flowerbed by the Solheim Recreation Center to get a moist soil sample as part of a research project in Dr. Greg Frederick's freshman biology class.

LETU is one of only a handful of universities in Texas, and the only one in East Texas, working on this "virus hunter" project in coordination with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Maxfeldt decided to name the new virus the Solheim virus, and it is one of the first novel viruses to be isolated on the LETU campus.

Hands-on learning is one of the hallmarks of a LeTourneau University education. This is one example where LETU students learn through hands-on research and real world applications that many students at other universities only get to do as graduate students.

Frederick says the goal of the HHMI program is to identify new viruses that can infect and kill bacteria that cause diseases, like tuberculosis.

Maxfeldt, who is now a sophomore, says he already knows the work he is doing will stand him in good stead in a few years when he applies to graduate schools. He wants to be an orthodontist.