What's in Your Water?
Ongoing research leads to new methods of tracking the source of water-born bacteria
A prevalent transmitter of bacteria and infectious disease, water poses a threat to developing nations and natural disaster recovery areas. A key problem in these areas is determining the source of water-born bacteria.
Dr. James Brooks Crozier, Roanoke College biology professor, is doing what he can to solve this problem. Modern methods of determining the source of bacteria are expensive and labor intensive, as well as inaccurate. Crozier is working on a more accurate and efficient Microbial Source Tracking (MST) method.
With a team of undergraduate students, Crozier has developed a molecular method based on a bacterium's DNA, or gene sequence. Using the bacteria Escherichia coli and Enterococcus, his team is focusing on the gene sequences of these bacteria from different animal sources. Human and cow E.coli, for example, will have similar gene sequences, but there may be a couple gene sequences in each that are different. Knowing these differences, scientists can then pinpoint the source of the fecal bacteria. Eventually there will be a database of differences, which will be used to identify a sample's source.
Crozier's undergraduate team has been essential to the development of this MST method. The research is now at a point where students are researching patent information. It is a source of pride to Crozier that his undergraduate students are involved in graduate-level research.
"The students are my research program. I feel a close connection with them." he says.
This close connection arises from having the students in the lab from day one. Freshmen are welcome to participate in research, and his lab received a student assistant from URAP (Undergraduate Research Assistant Program). In addition, Crozier has hosted students from several high schools in his lab.
Bringing college-level microbiology to high school students is the focus of this community outreach, and some of the high school students have won local and regional science project competitions. Crozier's college students have published professional articles in the Virginia Journal of Science, and presented their research at many professional meetings including those held by the American Society for Microbiology.
With articles published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology and the Virginia Journal of Science, Crozier's work on source tracking has made quite an impact on the science community. This research has been presented to both the National Environmental Health Association and American Society for Microbiology. In recognition of the importance of this research, he has been awarded research grants from the Virginia Water Resources Center, the Cabell Brand Center and the United States Department of Agriculture-Small Business Initiative Research foundation. Recently Crozier formed a working relationship with individuals at the United States Geological Survey and is collaborating with a lab at Virginia Tech. These relationships will serve to compare source tracking methods and validate Crozier's findings.