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antibiotics

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Laeticia Iboki (right) and a former classmate will present their research this spring on Capitol Hill about a new antibiotic. Betsy Roberts (left), assistant professor of biology, will join them.

A pair of Southern biology students have been selected to present on Capitol Hill their discovery of a type of bacteria that may have valuable antibiotic properties.

The students will participate in the Posters on the Hill program, sponsored by the national Council of Undergraduate Research. It features 60 student research projects from more than 300 applicants across the nation. The program will be held on April 19 and 20, when students will offer poster presentations of their work to members of Congress, Congressional aides and representatives of federal agencies.

Jacqueline Mary Desrosier, a Guilford resident who just graduated from SCSU, found the bacteria during an advanced microbiology course last spring. The course, part of a nationwide program called the Small World Initiative, enabled students to isolate soil bacteria in the hopes of finding new antibiotics. During the course, she found this type of bacteria inhibited several pathogenic bacteria.

During the summer and fall, she and Laeticia Iboki, a resident of Stratford, performed experiments with this “good bacteria,” and showed that it not only killed harmful bacteria, but also helped tomato plants grow larger and withstand heat stress.

“Both young women have worked extremely hard on this project,” said Elizabeth Lewis Roberts, an SCSU assistant professor of biology who teaches the microbiology course. “Jackie came in to work with me on the project over the summer when she wasn’t getting any course credit, and Laeticia did the same last fall. The project is significant because we’ve found another example where bacteria — best known for causing disease — are creating a product that can control other disease causing microbes and can help plants survive harsh environmental conditions.”

Patricia Zibluk, director of the SCSU Sponsored Programs and Research (SPAR) program, said she was elated to learn that the students’ application was accepted in a very competitive environment. SPAR coordinated the application process.

“It is a testament to Southern’s growing emphasis on giving our students genuine research experiences that foster their intellectual growth and creativity,” Zibluk said.

The Small World Initiative – which is independent of the Posters on the Hill program — is an international undergraduate research collaborative designed to help address the diminishing supply of effective antibiotics through the discovery of antibiotics from soil bacteria. Last spring, more than five dozen colleges and universities – including SCSU — participated in the program. SCSU is taking part again this semester.

 

    Biology students at Southern have joined the quest to find new antibiotics at a time when an increase in drug-resistant bacteria threatens the lives and health of the public.

    SCSU is participating in the Small World Initiative, an international undergraduate research collaborative, designed to help address the diminishing supply of effective antibiotics through the discovery of antibiotics from soil bacteria. More than five dozen colleges and universities – most of which are in the United States — are taking part in the program spearheaded by Jo Handelsman, a Yale professor who was appointed by President Barack Obama last year to the position of associate director for science in The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

    A total of 32 SCSU students took soil samples during the 2015 spring semester from locations around Connecticut. The students then examined the samples for bacteria that were able to kill other bacteria. The chemicals from those attacking bacteria were then extracted and tested.

    “We already have had a good deal of success in that more than half of our students were successful in finding bacteria that killed other bacteria, and then successfully extracted the chemicals from them. In other words, they have found antibiotic-producing bacteria,” said Elizabeth Lewis Roberts, SCSU assistant professor of biology. Roberts teaches the biology course that is part of the Small World Initiative.

    “The next step will involve testing those samples further to determine whether they are antibiotics that already exist, or are brand new,” she added. “We hope to conduct that testing during the next year. I am optimistic that we will find new antibiotics, but obviously various levels of testing will be needed in the years ahead to see if they can be used medically.”

    John D’Alessandro, a senior biology major and resident of Brookfield, said the project has generated considerable excitement. “It’s a hands-on type of lab course that creates a lot of enthusiasm. There is a real need to find new alternatives to the existing antibiotic supply and it’s exciting to be part of that effort.”

    Roberts applied to participate in the program and received approval last year. The biology course that is part of the Small World Initiative is scheduled to be taught again in the spring 2016 semester.