Hi, everyone! Welcome to our blog and very first post. We’re very excited about this project and are looking forward to beginning work in Ghana. The four of us are currently at Haverford and are already running experiments. Catherine, Marina, and I (Nora) are new to Professor Iruka Okeke’s lab, and so we are getting used to E. coli and the new protocols. Laura conducted her senior research in Iruka’s lab, so is familiar with everything and is helping us get adjusted. We will leave for Accra, Ghana on June 17th. Before our departure, we plan to get started on our projects and run through the molecular microbiology workshop that we will help to teach to university students while in Ghana.
Before going any further, it would be helpful to know exactly what we’re doing! The four of us are working on two separate projects, both of which have to do with the bacterium E. coli. (Click here for a brief overview of this incredible and well-studied organism.) Laura will be spearheading a very exciting project and introducing a new cell line to the lab in Ghana, which comes from a frog species known as Xenopus laevis, another model organism. These cells are used to detect different kinds of diarrhea-causing E. coli (not all types are harmful). In the US, human cells are typically used for these tests, but require special conditions for maintenance which are not available in resource-poor settings such as Ghana. Introducing the frog cell line will allow Ghanaian scientists to perform these tests and differentiate between E. coli types, allowing for more effective and specific treatment.
The second project we’re working on is a bit more complicated. Iruka’s colleague in Ghana, Mr. Opintan, has collected several hundred samples of E. coli (from workers in the food-industry who are required to be tested for Salmonella infection) that we will work with. We will test these samples both for resistance to antibiotics and for pathogenicity, or the ability to cause disease. We are mainly interested in tracking the presence of a resistance gene located on a plasmid– a small ring of DNA separate from the chromosome that is easily transferred between bacteria cells. Last year, Laura and Amy Labar ’10 went with Iruka to Nigeria, where they performed similar experiments. They found a high prevalence of the resistance gene in pathogenic E. coli in samples collected in Nigeria, and comparing these results to what we find in Ghana will give us a clue to the regional distribution of E. coli resistance.
Together with the frog cell line, these studies will hopefully help scientists and health workers detect and provide better treatment for diarrhea caused by E. coli, which remains a leading cause of death in young children.