Purdy Lab Students Present at Microbiology Symposium
Issue   |   Wed, 02/01/2017 - 22:32
Photo courtesy of Alexandra Purdy
Stephany Flores-Ramos '17 presents her research on acetate regulation at the Pioneer Valley Microbiology Symposium on Wednesday, Jan. 15.

Six students from Professor of Biology Alexandra Purdy’s research laboratory attended the Pioneer Valley Microbiology Symposium on Jan. 15 at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The laboratory’s work focuses on interactions between bacteria and their hosts on the molecular level, and students researching these topics presented their work at the day-long event.

The symposium, which was organized by UMass graduate students, invited speakers from nearby communities to give talks on microbiology research. The Amherst students submitted abstracts in the months leading up to the symposium, and two students were selected to present their work. Stephany Flores-Ramos ’17 gave a talk on the regulation of acetate in the bacterium Vibrio fischeri and Duy Nguyen ’17 presented a poster on the protein and gene expression of bacteria in fruit flies.

According to Purdy, Flores-Ramos was only one of two undergraduate students to give a formal talk at the symposium.

Purdy Lab, which currently consists of four Summer Science Undergraduate Fellows (SURF), two thesis students and a research assistant, “aims to understand both the molecular mechanisms and the ecological constraints that underlie interactions between bacteria and their eukaryotic hosts,” according to its website. The seven students in the lab have largely taken the research behind Purdy’s 2014 research paper, “The Acetate Switch of an Intestinal Pathogen Disrupts Host Insulin Signaling and Lipid Metabolism,” and are completing research projects on related topics.

Flores-Ramos and Nguyen both pursued thesis work with Purdy after working in Purdy Lab. Flores-Ramos joined as a SURF in the summer of 2015, and Nguyen as a paid researcher in January 2016.

“Purdy Lab gave me a lot of learning experience,” Nguyen said. “I get to think about my own research, I get my own independence and the techniques [used in the lab] are really interesting.”

For his thesis, Nguyen has designed a synthetic piece of DNA that can bind to target mRNA in the bacteria of a fruit fly gut. The idea is to attach fluorescent molecules to the synthetic piece and examine what is being expressed when the bacteria infects the fly.

“It was very helpful to give a presentation to people who study the same stuff,” he said. “I was able to find people who are also working on the same technique.”

Flores-Ramos’s research looks at bacteria in the Hawaiian bobtail squid, examining a two-component system that has been found to regulate acetate in the bacterium Vibrio cholerae to see if it can also regulate acetate in another bacterium V. fischeri. How bacteria control acetate has a major effect on host health, according to Purdy.

“It was nerve-wracking in the beginning [of the talk],” Flores-Ramos said. “I was concerned because though I’ve been working in the lab, I don’t have as many results to present.”

For Purdy, the experience of watching her students grow and present their own research is near unparalleled. “It was so awesome to watch my students present,” Purdy said. “I am so proud and awed by all the work they’ve done to get there and to see the fruits of the effort acknowledged in this way.”