Class of 2015 Student Presents Research at National Microbiology Conference

May 19, 2014

Co-authoring a scientific paper as a college junior is a noteworthy achievement by itself. Being chosen to present the significant findings of that research at a national academic conference makes the feat doubly remarkable. Yet Samantha Scott ’15, a biochemistry, cell and molecular biology (BCMB) major at The University of Scranton, completed this tricky double play with the help of her adviser, Michael Sulzinski, Ph.D., professor of biology and BCMB Program faculty.

Scott’s and Dr. Sulzinski’s research, entitled “Detection of Commensal Populations of Burkholderia gladioli as a Potential Reservoir for Human Infections,” was accepted as a poster presentation at the general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, held May 17-20 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

According to Scott, their research detected a type of bacteria (Burkholderia gladioli pv. agaricicola) in commercial populations of American white button mushrooms. Previously, this bacteria had been reported only in New Zealand.

Their road to Boston began in Dr. Sulzinski’s lab. His area of interest is infectious disease. He has long been studying a pathogen known as Burkholderia gladioli. The pathogen causes “soft rot” in plants and fungi, but more importantly, it is known to cause severe – even fatal – pulmonary infections in people with weakened immune systems, especially people with cystic fibrosis.

As Dr. Sulzinski’s research assistant, Samantha worked with him to study Burkholderia in a number of natural hosts. Interestingly, New Zealand is the only known source of commercially available plants carrying the Burkholderia infection. It is significant, then, that Scott and Dr. Sulzinski were able to document the pathogen’s presence in white button mushrooms purchased right off the shelves at six different supermarkets in the United States. This finding means that the pathogen thought endemic only to New Zealand also exists in the United States.

Dr. Sulzinski said it is vital to be clear about the findings. The pathogen was detected only after subjecting the mushrooms to incubation “under extreme laboratory conditions” – not the conditions of normal cultivation. Despite this caveat, the findings are significant because they suggest a potential “reservoir” for the infection here in the United States.

The American Society for Microbiology accepted Scott’s research for presentation at its annual meeting.

A dean’s list student at the University of Scranton, Scott maintains a 3.95 G.P.A. while participating in the University’s prestigious Honor’s Program. She holds an American Society for Microbiology Undergraduate Research Fellowship, one of only a handful of undergraduate students in the United States. She has also participated in the University’s Faculty/Student Research Program and is an undergraduate teaching assistant for microbiology laboratory. Last summer, she was a summer undergraduate researcher at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine Undergraduate Research Internship Program. In early June, she will begin HIV/AIDS research as part of the Summer Scholars Program at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, Rochester, N.Y.

Scott is a member of Alpha Sigma Nu (the national Jesuit honor society), as well as Beta Beta Beta (the biology honor society), Phi Lambda Upsilon (the chemistry honor society) and Alpha Lambda Delta (the national freshman honor society). She is a member of the University’s Biology Club, Chemistry Club and Mathematics Club.

Her goal upon graduation in 2015 is to earn a doctorate degree toward a career in microbiology research.

She is the daughter of Randy and Patricia Scott, Falls, PA.

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