Students at Baton Rouge Community College are getting hands-on experience in research for helping find solutions to the growing worries of antibiotic resistance.
Mary Miller, associate professor of biology at BRCC, has redesigned her Introductory Microbiology class to allow students to research and experiment with antimicrobial properties.
Miller said the research component of her class lets students be part of the “crowdsourcing effort to find antibiotic producers in the environment.”
Miller partnered with the Small World Initiative in 2014. Miller said the scientific goals of the initiative are to “address the global concern of antibiotic resistance … to explore the untapped microbial and biochemical diversity of the soil.”
Since spring 2015, the limited enrollment class had approximately 50 students who found bacteria with antimicrobial properties.
“This semester, two antimicrobial producers were discovered, Bacillus zhangzhouensis and Delftia lacustris,” Miller said. “To our knowledge, these organisms have not been reported in the literature to be producers and could have properties importation to the medical field. The compounds from these organisms will be extracted and tested further."
In November, Miller’s students presented their findings at BRCC’s campus during a poster forum.
Four students will be selected to present their findings in June at the annual American Society for Microbiology Microbe conference in Atlanta. Miller said Gabrielle Hogg, Gillian Triche and Michael Hogan have been chosen so far.
“The poster forum allows the research students to demonstrate their scientific communication skills by sharing their findings,” Miller said. “The forum also promotes awareness of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the need to find new antibiotics.”
Miller said Hogg isolated Delftia lacustris from a fish caught within Terrebonne Bay. Hogg and Triche will “isolate the antimicrobial metabolite and analyze its properties,” Miller said.
“This is a big find for our student researchers since none to date have found an antibiotic producer against P. aeruginosa,” Miller added.
Hogan is working with Miller to develop a course protocol using CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats).
“This protocol will lend to the advancement of antimicrobial discovery in the classroom and will serve as a tool for teaching molecular genetics,” Miller said.
Miller looks forward to future research possibilities at BRCC.
“Antibiotic research provides our students with opportunities they may not experience at other institutions,” she said. “My hope is that BRCC will be seen as an avenue for students to explore the field of research, and where they will gain an appreciation for science.”
“One important theme that runs through the course is that a negative result is just as important as a positive result,” Miller said. “If a student doesn’t find an antibiotic-producing bacterium, they still research their organism to define its characteristics in the environment. All results in this class are equally exciting for me.”
Funding for the projects, outside of lab supplies, are provided by the BRCC/LSU Bridges to Baccalaureate Grant, the BRCC Student Government Association, and the CCURI NSF Grant, Miller said.
For information about biology and science degrees offered at BRCC, visit www.mybrcc.edu/academics/science_department/index.php.