June 20, 2019

Student awarded for bacteria research

  • (From right to left) Paige Smith '19, Assistant Professor Anna Jozwick, and Jozwick's 2019 Summer Science Research students

Paige Smith ’19 has won the J. Howard Brown Award from the American Society for Microbiology for outstanding undergraduate student research. Her work focused on identifying the function of a gene used in communication in the bacterial fish pathogen Yersinia ruckeri.

The biological science major was given the award for her contributions to the field of microbiology at the American Society for Microbiology Maryland Branch meeting on Monday, June 17. The meeting brings together scientists and student researchers—undergraduate and graduate—from all over the state. Second and third place for the award went to students from Loyola University and Morgan State University, respectively.

Smith presented her research in a poster and oral presentation at the meeting. She conducted the research at Goucher during the 2018 Summer Science Research Program and during a yearlong senior independent project. Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Anna Jozwick, Ph.D., was her faculty research mentor.

Jozwick’s research focuses on aquaculture pathogens, and the bacteria Yersinia ruckeri is one that is harmful to farmed rainbow trout. “It causes a disease that results in internal and external hemorrhaging and death, so there’s a huge economic factor,” Jozwick said.

Smith built on the work of previous students to identify a communication gene in the bacteria, and she discovered that manipulating the gene prevented the bacteria from communicating. Without communication, the bacteria can’t regulate behaviors such as motility or carbon source utilization, which can possibly affect how well the bacteria can sustain its population within the host.

There is still research to be done about how the function of the gene can be used for prevention and treatment, but Smith’s research will allow further study on how this system is important in the pathogenicity of the bacteria.

Smith took part in a Q&A after she presented her research at the meeting. “We had a lot of tough, interesting questions,” she said. “It was intimidating, especially since it was a roomful of experts in microbiology, but it was a good discussion.”

Jozwick and her entire 2019 summer research lab, five students in all, came to the meeting to support Smith. Those students, with Jozwick, are continuing the work with Yersinia ruckeri at Goucher.

This summer, Smith will be doing research with Goucher Board of Trustees member Jocelyn Reader ’02 at the University of Maryland Medical Center, while also studying for the MCATs. She plans to apply to medical school next year.