Two Voorhees Biology students presented research during 2020 SCICU symposium

Left to right: Denise Freeman, Dr. Zhabiz Golkar, and Dawn Freeman

Denmark, S.C.- Two Voorhees College Biology majors Dawn and Denise Freeman recently presented their research on“Comparative Genomics and Evolutionary Analysis of confirmed CRISPR Loci in 200 strains of multiple drug resistance E. coli” and “Fusion technology and biotechnological applications against multiple drug resistancepathogens” at the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (SCICU) Student/Faculty Research Symposium held in Spartanburg, S.C.

The emergence of multiple drug-resistant bacteria has prompted interest in alternatives to conventional antimicrobials. One of the possible replacement options for antibiotics is to develop more antimicrobial agents.

Denise Freeman, in her study, evaluated fusion technology and its potential biotechnological applications by generating more than 60 genetically unique fused strains with special reference to genetic recombination between related bacteria.

In this powerful genetic engineering technique, Dr. Zhabiz Golkar, assistant professor of Biology, conducted a lab that combined genes from different organisms to create strains with desired properties.

Denise said working on the SCICU project, was her first time working in a lab and doing bench work. “I always thought working in a lab would be hard and very challenging. I learned how to use the instruments and practice lab safety,” Denise said.

Golkar said further research would be required to study the genetic profiling of each positive fused strain to confirm the utility for desirable industrial properties. “I would like to express my gratitude to SCICU for two grants, which provided me with the financial support for both research projects,” Golkar said.

One of the ongoing projects of Golkar’s lab is to study Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR), which are known as the bacterial immune system and resists foreign genes such as phage DNA.

This system inhibits the transfer of specific movable genetic elements that match the CRISPR spacer sequences, thereby preventing the spread of drug-resistant genes between pathogens. Despite the extensive studies on Multidrug-resistant E. coli strains, infections remain to be a significant challenge for public health.

As E. coli species involves sub-lineages that differ in virulence, and antimicrobial resistance strains, a clear understanding of the species’ evolution is critical to design the new antibiotics.

Dawn was able to screen confirmed CRISPR loci of 200 sequenced E. coli genomes based on the CRISPR database, and other bioinformatics tools that were available to carry out the comprehensive comparative analysis of this species.

Results show, matches between E. coli CRISPR, could control short-term phenotype changes and mediate long term evolution. CRISPR analysis could, therefore, be critical in assessing the evolutionary potential of E. coli sub-lineages and aid in designing the new antimicrobial drugs.

Dawn said the SCICU project allowed her to gain tremendous knowledge of bioinformatics and genomics software such as CRISPRviz, UGene, and CLC.

“I particularly learned about the classes, types, and subtypes of E.coli and the evolution of the strains that were in the lab’s collection. I was able to correlate those type/subtype with resistant antibiotic and resistant genes,” Dawn said.

Denise and Dawn are seniors who are natives of Monrovia, Liberia

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