Weaving an interdisciplinary microbiome career using threads from different ecosystems.
Presented by Sarah Hosler in fulfillment of her Master’s of Science in Animal Science degree at the University of Maine. Jul 27, 2022 12:00 – 14:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Register in advance to attend this presentation over Zoom, which will also be held in person in 206 Rogers Hall at the University of Maine (no RSVP required). After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
Sarah officially joined my lab and started as a Master’s of Animal Science student at UMaine in fall 2020, which was during an extremely tumultuous time in history, and was only a year into my Assistant Professor position here at UMaine and before the lab had built up protocols, collaborations, samples, or momentum. Collectively, this meant that Sarah was part of my work to establish a laboratory and has been blazing that trail along with me. As such, in addition to the technical and analytical skills she has been learning, she has obtained a massive amount of professional development and leadership experience.
Sarah’s research interests are the interaction between the microbial community associated with various animal species, animal health or productivity, and the environment. This work is highly interdisciplinary, and requires extensive imagination and forethought into experimental designs which can capture biological, microbiological, and environmental data. This research theory is directly in line with the One Health in the Environment research group at UMaine, as well as the Microbes and Social Equity working group – an international research collaboration which I lead-, both of which Sarah has obtained mentorship from. This graduate work has focused on developing pilot studies and new research collaborations for three major projects/lines of scientific inquiry.
The first project centered around the tracking of Cryptosporidium parvum in different-aged dairy cattle populations as well as their pens at the University of Maine’s J.F. Witter Farm. Cryptosporidium is a small protozoan; a single-celled organism, and it is found in and around water and soil, as it spends most of its life cycle in those places. Humans and animals may ingest it through contaminated water or the fecal-oral route accidentally. In very young (such as calves) or immunocompromised individuals, an infection can occur, causing diarrhea and dehydration, and leading to death in many cases. Sarah has trained multiple undergraduates on sample collection and processing, as well as cell staining and microscopy, and the project has already collected dozens of samples. As this project will proceed for at least two years, it is not the main focus of Sarah’s thesis, however she will be an author on the eventual publication and she is leading a review manuscript on cryptosporidiosis which we will submit for peer review by fall 2022.
The second project investigated pathogens in wild rodent populations in Maine, in the context of heat stress and northward-shorting range changes due to climate changes. A pilot project collected biological data and samples from live-trapped flying squirrels and white-footed mice in six locations across Maine over summer 2021. The pilot project involved three additional investigators with complementary expertise, as well as their associated student mentees. To investigate disease potential, free catch fecal samples were collected from trapped animals to identify carriage of specific pathogens, and to isolate bacteria and assess heat tolerance. Sarah coordinated the training of undergraduate students in my and other labs, including sample collection and processing, microbial culture, DNA extraction, and more.
The third project project, and primary focus of her second year, investigated the microbial communities associated with sea scallops at different life stages and associated with tank surfaces at different points in a hatchery production run. Overall, there is a dramatic lack of research into the microbial communities involved in aquaculture and fisheries and how these might impact production as well as local ecosystems. Sarah processed a large number of samples for DNA extraction and sequencing preparation, as well as microbial culturing and biofilm assessment, and trained an undergraduate on the culturing work. This project and the piloting work Sarah did has led to a small grant award and a multiple-institutional collaboration. Sarah presented some of this preliminary work to aquaculture and fisheries industry professionals at the Northeast Aquaculture Conference & Exposition/ 41st Milford Aquaculture Seminar in Portland, and the American Society for Microbiology Microbe meetings. Sarah is currently writing this manuscript which will be submitted for peer review by the end of this summer.
This graduate work was highly collaborative, and required a great deal of professionalism. Each of the three research projects that Sarah had been working on involves a primary team of faculty or animal science professionals, most of whom are on campus at UMaine but some of whom are remote at external institutions. Each of the three projects also involved 1 – 4 undergraduate students participating in the research. Not only did Sarah help me organize project team meetings, and facilitate those meetings, but she coordinated data collection and file management for those projects, as well as trained and oversaw undergraduates in the laboratory. These skills are so often overlooked in research training, and are often considered part of the background in science. However, as tenure-track faculty, I would argue that these organization and research coordination skills are the most valuable for advancing complicated projects.