Rachel Davey

Did you receive any recognition (awards, publications, scholarship) for your applied learning experience?
CSURF Supplies Award
Briefly describe your applied learning experience

Due to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the need for new antimicrobial agents is greatly increasing. Marine actinobacteria have been found to produce unique secondary metabolites, many of which having been developed into antibiotics. Application of new technologies for drug discovery, such as metabolomics, to actinobacteria is important to the discovery of new drug treatments. Throughout this directed independent study, the secondary metabolite profiles of eight actinomycete strains isolated from a marine sponge were analyzed by UPLC-QtofMS. Sample preparation techniques were optimized in order to develop a method for application to a larger collection of actinomycete strains. UPLC-QtofMS analysis in conjunction with specialized spectral processing software allowed for rapid metabolite profiling and prioritization of the strains for further analysis. Of the eight strains, three contained secondary metabolites of interest. Metabolomics data suggested that strain K15-3 produced grincamycin E and strain K15-11 produced bottromycin A2, both of which are currently being developed into drug treatments. Finally, the metabolite profile of strain K15-4 revealed production of two desferrioxamines and a family of four novel metabolites. These compounds will be further studied in the spring semester to obtain more information on the potential novel chemistry.

Did you receive any grants or other funding for your applied learning experience?
How did you get involved in this applied learning experience and what did you hope to gain from it?

During my sophomore year, I began interning with Dr. Jeffrey Wright in his chemistry laboratory and learned a wide variety of biological and chemical research techniques. An important research focus of the Wright Laboratory is to isolate natural products from sources that are culturable, rather than collectable. This process ensures a sustainable supply of important compounds and has minimal impact on the ecosystem. Throughout the next two years of interning in the laboratory, I learned how to perform a variety of chromatography techniques, including LH-20, HP-20, Sep-Pak columns, and High Performance Liquid Chromatography analysis. This internship enabled me to experience much of the research process and sparked a very large interest in natural product discovery.

In the start of my senior year, I was awarded the Center for Support of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CSURF) Research Scholarship Supplies Award which has allowed me to complete a directed independent study research project in the Wright Laboratory. By completing this project, I hoped to gain a more in-depth understanding of chemical research techniques, like Mass Spectrometry and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometry analysis.

What did you gain from this experience? What was challenging? What did you learn?

Throughout this project I have learned an tremendous amount of information about natural product discovery, which has caused my passion for research to grow even more. In order to study the chemical profiles of the eight actinomycete strains, I learned how to complete a wide varierty of biological harvesting and cultivating techniques, which I had never done before. Also, I have gained much experience in using the UPLC-QtofMS metabolomics data to determine the individual compounds in the actinomycete strains. Finally, I learned how to conduct various biassays, inculding antimicrobial and cytotoxic, to test if the strains contain any bioactive compounds.

In what way will this experience make you a more viable candidate when you are seeking a job or applying for graduate study?

This experience has taught me much more than I would have ever imagined. Throughout my project I have gained experience in some of the most important chemical and biological techniques used today in industry and research, which has greatly prepared me for graduate school. Not only have I learned new scientific techniques, but I have gained experience in problem-solving, working with a team, and conducting background research on various topics. All in all, my research experience in the Wright Lab has made me a better scientist who is ready to take on a Master's thesis.