For 70 years, antibiotics have been used globally to successfully reduce illness and death from infectious diseases. However, the infectious organisms that antibiotics are designed to kill have existed alongside antibiotics for so long that they have adapted, making the drugs less effective. University of Findlay senior Sarah Klass is researching this universal problem with the aid of her professor Robert Charvat, Ph.D. in the hopes of making a difference in Hancock County.
In fall 2017, Klass applied for the TriBeta national biology honors society research grant after Charvat approached her about joining the project. There was already a movement within the University of Findlay to study the Blanchard River Watershed and her interest in microbial science drew her to Charvat’s project.
“Hancock County has a lot of agricultural practices and the use of antibiotics in livestock feed and livestock in general has created the perfect storm for the development of antibiotic resistance. We are seeing our last-ditch effort drugs fail,” explained Charvat. “We now have infections that are resistant to those, so there’s a real push to understand just how prevalent antibiotic resistance is and ways we can get around it.”
On a weekend in September, 24 Findlay students, accompanied by Charvat, divided into teams of two or three and sampled 110 sites over a 100 mile stretch of the Blanchard River. With the samples now back at the lab, Klass will confirm that E.Coli is in the samples, extract the DNA and then test each site for the presence of seven different antibiotic resistance genes though comparing bands on agrose gel.
Once the presence and prevalence of each gene is known for each site, Klass will be able to map out clusters, or “hot spots” where the resistance levels are particularly high. “Hopefully, we will be able to go back to the cluster sites and see if there is an environmental factor such as an animal farm that is having an impact on the river,” Charvat explained. Klass expounded, “If we see that it’s there and that it’s a problem, we can educate the public on how to properly dispose of their antibiotics, not make it worse.”
Klass will be presenting this project and its results at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research (NCUR) in April, 2018. She plans to attend graduate school next fall to further her research experience and eventually, pursue research as a career.
“Originally when I was applying, I thought I wanted a very hands-on career. But then, last year I got into the research aspect, which I never thought I’d actually want to do, but I fell in love with it,” explained Klass. “I fell in love with this school. It’s small, all the teachers are fantastic, and they all get together and do projects like this.”
Charvat plans on using this research as a supplement to his microbiology course where he teaches about the problems with misusing or overusing antibiotics and how that leads to the development of resistance. He currently is working with undergraduate students on five different research projects. Findlay’s College of Science requires undergraduates to complete original research before graduation.