Jake Miller, a Black Hills State University pre-medicine student  conducts genetic analysis of water samples from the former Homestake Gold Mine at the Center for Conservation of Biological Research lab. As a BHSU student, Miller has had the opportunity to be involved in one of the first research projects at SUSEL. The development SUSEL, in nearby Lead, will enhance the research opportunities for BHSU students.

Even as the water is being pumped from the former Homestake Mine, the Center for the Conservation of Biological Resources (CCBR) at Black Hills State University, is taking an active role by conducting genetic analysis of microbes found in water samples taken from the Sanford Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (SUSEL).  

Jake Miller, a pre-medicine student from Pierre, along with Dr. Cynthia Anderson, associate director of the CCBR, are sequencing bacterial and archaeal clones of samples taken from the former Homestake Gold Mine. The research will try to identify new microorganisms from samples of the water at the 1,000-foot level, the 3,000-foot level and the 4,850-foot level. In the CCBR lab, Miller and Anderson compare the genetic sequences of the samples to known organisms searching for undiscovered organisms. The genetic analysis, which will continue through the next few months, is part of a research project by Dr. Sookie Bang from South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. Results from this study are expected in about a year.

Anderson says they are excited to be working on one of the first experiments at SUSEL. The research has already stimulated ideas and discussion of future research projects in conjunction with the developments at SUSEL.

“I believe this research will open the door for future projects,” Dr. Shane Sarver, director of CCBR, says. “We are currently developing research ideas and will be submitting research proposals in the future.”

Research for this project and others at the CCBR are being conducted by undergraduate students as well as students enrolled in BHSU’s newest program, a master’s degree in Integrative Genomics.

BHSU received formal approval this summer from the accreditation commission for its master of science degree in Integrative Genomics. The Integrative Genomics master’s degree program was approved with strong commendation by the Higher Learning Commission.

Integrative genomics is a new area of biological research that seeks to place the functional significance of an organism's many genes into an ecological and evolutionary context. In a practical sense, integrative genomics allows scientists to understand the success story that each species represents.

According to Dr. Holly Downing, dean of the College of Arts and Science at BHSU, the new master's degree in integrative genomics is one of only a handful nationwide.

“This is a field that is breaking new ground in biology because it can help us understand the interplay between genetics and the ecology and evolution of organisms,” Downing says. “Graduates with this degree will be well prepared for advanced laboratory positions and continuing professional education in medical school or doctoral programs.” 

The CCBR lab, located Jonas Hall on the BHSU campus, is currently expanding and will double the amount of floor space available next semester. Staffed by three BHSU faculty members, two research associates, a laboratory technician and a postdoctoral researcher, CCBR provides opportunities for BHSU students  to do cutting edge research under the direction of faculty mentors.

 “We focus on mentoring undergraduate and graduate students,” Anderson says. “We know the best way to learn science is a hands-on approach. We allow students the opportunity to learn by doing science in our lab.”

The SUSEL project is one of many research projects at the CCBR. Established in 2004, the CCBR is a state-of-the-art DNA laboratory that has received more than $4.5 million in grants and contracts. The CCBR is one of only 13 labs in the United States approved to conduct wildlife forensics. Nearly 40 BHSU undergraduate students have received a total of $215,000 in undergraduate research fellowships.