Lycoming College students present research at international microbiology conference

Jeff Newman, Ph.D., professor of biology at Lycoming College, and five biology students presented recent research at the meeting of the Bergey's International Society for Microbial Systematics in Pune, India in September.

Newman presented his research on a new method to measure the evolutionary relationships between bacteria and identify genes that are shared or unique.

The Lycoming students, the only undergraduates at the conference, presented their research as scientific posters. Jacob Miller, a senior anatomy and physiology major from Cooperstown, N.Y., won the award for Best Poster of the 22 that were presented. His research analyzed two independent strains of a novel bacterial species that were isolated from the Loyalsock Creek near Williamsport.

The research by Miller and the other Lycoming students used whole genome DNA sequence analysis that was made accessible by the Genome Consortium for Active Teaching — NextGen Sequencing Group (GCAT-SEEK) with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). Other experiments presented were conducted on instruments purchased with a $328,000 NSF Major Research Instrumentation grant.

Also presenting research posters were: Emily Carson, a junior biology major from Elmira, N.Y., Victoria Wilson, a senior anatomy and physiology major from Ringwood, N.J., and Kyle Jacobs, a junior anatomy and physiology major from Ridgway, Pa. who each investigated novel bacteria discovered in local creeks during a microbiology course. Devin Frantz, a junior anatomy and physiology major from Lehighton, Pa., shared his research that supports the reinstatement of the genus Kaistella, which had been reclassified as another genus.

Bergey’s International Society for Microbial Systematics promotes research in microbial systematics as well as enhances global communication among taxonomists who study bacteria and archaea. Systematics and Taxonomy seek to name and group closely-related organisms and identify ways they can be distinguished, such as how E. coli is similar and different from Salmonella or Shigella. The society also serves as an international advocate for research efforts on microbial systematics and diversity.

“Studying the characteristics of these microorganisms helps identify their role in nature, and how they could potentially be useful, such as in production of biofuels, antibiotics, natural insecticides or cleaning up the environment,” said Newman. “The students have done a great job using a variety of different technologies and bioinformatics tools to really define their organisms.”

biology students

Emily Carson, Prof. Newman, Jacob Miller, Devin Frantz, Kyle Jacobs, Victoria Wilson

The conference costs, housing and meals were funded by the Provost’s Student Research and Faculty Travel Funds, while student travel was supported by donations from alumni and other friends as well as fundraising efforts. The NewmanLab website with the posters presented as well as additional information about the lab are accessible from novelmicrobe.com.