Contributor: Emily Kerr
Aylin Memili, who is now a freshman in college, studied the antibiotic resistance of rumen bacteria in high school. She ultimately discovered that many rumen bacteria can quickly develop resistance to a wide range of the common antibiotics including tetracycline. She is the first author of the paper “The Emergence of Tetracycline Resistance in Rumen Bacteria,” which was published on September 16, 2016. The work was supervised by and published with her mentors Shien Lu and Erdoğan Memili.
Why did you decide to study antibiotic resistance?
I found the resilience of the tetracycline resistant bacteria to be quite astonishing. My multi-drug resistance test showed that most tetracycline bacteria cultured had strong growth on plates with antibiotics of other classes. This was one of the most meaningful parts of my project, aside from raising awareness to the antibiotic resistance issue.
Where would you like to see this research go in the future?
I hope to analyze the genetic codes of the resistance determinants in these bacteria to better understand their evolutionary pathways through bioinformatics. By pinpointing the conservation of the resistant determinants over time, better antibiotics can be tailored to be more effective against a broader spectrum of pathogens.
How did you become interested in scientific research?
I completed science fair projects since middle school when I was first exposed to the different branches of science. In high school, I enrolled in higher levels of biology and chemistry courses which allowed me to gain the necessary foundation to begin asking more complex questions about cellular structures and their chemical properties.
I took part in research at universities starting in my first year in high school. I always had an interest to see the information I learned from my science textbooks being applied through different techniques to answer some of the most interesting scientific questions. Once my curiosities began to require higher levels of laboratory equipment access, I started searching for a mentor.
How did you find a mentor to supervise this project?
Before searching for a mentor, I determined which branch of science I would focus on. For example, to complete this paper, I looked at the faculty database specifically for biochemistry and microbiology professors. I also read the research papers of the mentors I narrowed down to see how well their methods generally correlated with tests I would need to run such as PCR. Finally, after emailing the professors my request to work in their lab under their guidance, I ultimately ended up working with those who agreed to mentor me.
Who specifically studied bacteria in rumen fluid. Why?
I was drawn to researching antibiotic resistant bacteria a few years ago after reading several news stories about the feeding of antibiotics to livestock to promote growth. Following additional literature searches, I have found out about the urgency for science-based solutions for prevention of antibiotic resistance in bacteria. As a result, I wanted to observe the resistance of bacteria in an animal that is a common food source, hence my choice of the cow’s rumen fluid.
You mentioned bioinformatics in your paper. Could you explain a little bit about what that entails?
Bioinformatics is a powerful way of analyzing large sums of biological information to produce new knowledge. Analyses of the genetic material from the data I collected involved determining the 16S rRNA sequences of the resistant bacteria through BLAST. Once I obtain the DNA sequences, I would then enter them into a database provided by NCBI to identify the antibiotic resistant bacteria that I have discovered in my study. This genetic method is highly precise in characterization of bacteria.
What have you done since publishing this paper? What are your future plans?
I am currently a freshman at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill where I am majoring in biochemistry. Through my work-study scholarship, I have been granted the opportunity to work with a team in a prominent research laboratory. I am excited to be working in a laboratory that is currently analyzing telomeres and certain DNA repair proteins to find correlations to cancer development.
What advice would you give to younger students who are interested in science or research?
My advice to younger students with developing interests in science is to fuel their curiosities with new knowledge rather than holding themselves back from learning more. By utilizing the cutting edge technologies such as computational biology and genomics we now have through the internet and other programs, students should explore what may interest them, and apply for research opportunities in the laboratories of professors across our country and the world. Also, I found that reading magazines promoting science such as National Geographic or MUSE, helped me to become exposed to science in terms that I could understand.