I am an environmental microbiologist interested in microbial diversity, antibiotic resistance and genetic exchange, and bacterial adaptations to an environment. My current projects investigate the ability of copper alloy materials to reduce bacterial loads in hospital and fitness center settings and characterize antibiotic resistance gene profiles in farm settings. Time permitting; I also continue my study of biofilm formation by the permafrost bacterium Psychrobacter arcticus.
Each year, an estimated 1 in 25 patients admitted to a hospital contracts a health-care associated infection. One way to reduce patient exposure to microorganisms in a hospital setting is to install antimicrobial surfaces such as copper alloys. We are studying the ability of copper alloy surfaces to reduce bacterial loads in medical and surgical suite rooms and around the hospital at Grinnell Regional Medical Center. Three undergraduates have been involved in sampling surfaces at the hospital, determining bacterial loads on surfaces in copper-alloy and control rooms, and identifying bacteria found on these high-touch surfaces. This project has been expanded to the fitness center at Grinnell College, where we are investigating the ability of copper-alloys to reduce bacteria loads on commonly touched surfaces such as dumbbells, barbells and grips. Through this work, we aim to improve the health of patients and athletes by reducing bacterial loads on key surfaces.
I also study the microbial diversity found in hog manure and the antibiotic resistance profiles in the manure, in farm soil in which the manure has been spread, and in sediment from streams into which the CAFO farms drain. Grinnell College resides in an area of Iowa that is full of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and we would like to determine if and how these CAFOs are impacting our environment. We work with a local farmer who operates four hog CAFOs in Poweshiek County. We have been provided full access to the manure pits, farm fields onto which the manure is applied annually and streams into which farm tiles drain. Seven undergraduates have participated in this project thus far and have focused attention on Escherichia coli and Enterococcus isolates and their resistance profiles, along with antibiotic resistance genes found in total DNA. Through culture-independent techniques we are determining the presence of resistance genes in each environment. We are collaborating with researchers at the USDA-ARS and Iowa State on this work. A Leopold Grant and a USDA grant currently fund this project. This work is also integrated into my Environmental Microbiology and Microbiology courses.