Identifying Bacteria to Improve Gut Health

November 28, 2018

Gut bacteria and golf may seem like a strange combination, but not to Sydney Bormann, a junior human biology major at South Dakota State University. The Parkston, South Dakota, native spent the summer identifying gut bacteria that can help inhibit the growth of disease-causing microorganisms—and honing her golf game.

Bormann, a member of the SDSU women’s golf team, received an American Society of Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship to support her summer research on gut microbiota, under the supervision of assistant professor Joy Scaria in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences. She is one of 26 students nationwide to receive the fellowship this year.

Bormann was named a Women’s Golf Association All-American Scholar and was honored on The Summit League Academic Honor Roll the last two academic years. She won her first collegiate title this spring. 

ASM provided $2,000 for Bormann to attend the June 2019 ASM Microbe Academy for Professional Development and the Microbe Meeting in San Francisco, while Scaria provided a $4,000 stipend for her summer research. Bormann will present her research at the ASM Microbe Meeting.

Though the ASM fellowship designates a 10-week summer research experience, Bormann spread out her hours to accommodate her golf schedule. “Although it can be a balancing act at times, I am thankful for the opportunity to do what I love each day. I have great coaches, professors and mentors who help me pursue my dreams in every area, whether that be in the classroom, on the golf course or in the lab,” Bormann said.

She became interested in microbiome research as a freshman when she took a microbiology lab class taught by Lecturer Jessica Mediger. “The whole class centered on analyzing samples from our microbiomes,” she explained. That included taking samples from their ears, mouths and belly buttons.

As a student in the Van D. and Barbara B. Fishback Honors College, Bormann sought a research position as part of her honors undergraduate independent study and senior capstone project for human biology. That search led her to Scaria’s lab, where she has been working since fall 2017.

Scaria encouraged her to delve into the scientific literature and get involved in the project, Bormann recalled. “He said ‘you’re not here to make media but to do a project and learn from it.’”

“Sydney is highly motivated and focused,” Scaria said. “Her commitment to the project has brought her recognition and is helping us to identify bacteria that can potentially help improve gut health by colonizing the gut mucosal layer and stimulating the immune system.”

Working with graduate student Sudeep Ghimire, Bormann used a library of human gut isolates and cultured 133 species to see which species could inhibit the growth of Salmonella, bacteria that live in the intestines of animals and humans.  Approximately 1 million Americans are infected with Salmonella through contaminated food each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There were quite a few species that had inhibiting effects,” Bormann said. For this work, she received the Undergraduate Honors Research Award. 

This summer, Bormann screened a chicken gut library, examining 63 bacterial species to identify those that form biofilms, working with postdoctoral research associate Abhijit Maji and graduate student Supapit Wongkuna. In addition, Professor Kinchel Doerner, dean of the Graduate School and interim dean of the College of Natural Sciences—an anaerobic bacteriologist—served as a co-mentor on the project.

“To develop better probiotics, we are looking for gut bacteria that form biofilms as a mechanism to outcompete pathogens,” Bormann explained. “If these good bacteria colonize the mucosal interface in the gut, it prohibits pathogens from taking that space.”

Bormann received first place for an oral presentation on her biofilm research at the September American Society of Microbiologists North Central Division meeting. “That was a really great experience,” she said. “It is one thing to do the research and understand the results yourself, but another to present to other scientists, so those who have not worked on the project can understand your work.”

Now between golf seasons, Bormann is doing follow-up work, including molecular testing to determine the genetic makeup of the bacteria and some microscopy work to confirm biofilm formation. She will present this work at the 2019 ASM Microbe meeting and write a manuscript to submit to a peer-reviewed journal.

“The time I’ve spent in the lab has been invaluable to develop as a student and as a researcher,” said Bormann, who hopes to become a physician and continue to be involved in research. “Hopefully, the results of my project will contribute to further development of probiotics that will enhance both animal and human health.”

Undergraduate research is an experience that Bormann encourages other students to try. “I would tell other undergraduates to reach out and ask professors. We are extremely lucky to have professors who definitely want us in the lab. SDSU has not only the resources but also faculty willing to take the time to mentor undergraduate researchers.”

Source: South Dakota State University