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Amanda Williams takes 2nd Place in the Undergraduate Research Exhibition, Health and Life Science Category

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"Investigating Environmental Factors that Impact Bacterial Antagonism”

Amanda Williams

Williams is a sophomore at Penn State and works in the Miyashiro Lab. She entered the lab in the Fall of 2017 through the BMB 496 and 488 courses.  “Science is the most interesting and important topic to study because there is so much that is still unknown”, stated Williams.   She is interested in BMB research in particular because she hopes to better understand the constant microbial interactions that contribute to our health as humans and hosts.

In the Miyashiro Lab, Williams studies bacteria that associate with host organisms.  Microbial populations are constantly interacting within all humans as hosts, and host health depends on these interactions. One mechanism through which these interactions can be disturbed is called a Type VI Secretion System (T6SS), which is a contact-dependent killing mechanism. In an active T6SS, a cell injects a “needle-like” apparatus into a neighboring cell. This needle, coated with toxic molecules, punctures the prey cell’s cellular membrane, thus promoting death of the neighboring cell.

Williams is using the beneficial symbiosis between the bioluminescent marine bacterium, Vibrio fischeri, and its host, the Hawaiin bobtail squid, to study T6S for several reasons, the most prominent of which being that some strains of V. fischeri possess the genes necessary for T6SS (T6-positive) while others do not (T6-negative). T6-positive and T6-negative strains of V. fischeri have even been extracted from the same host. Ultimately, she seeks to understand how the T6-negative strains are able to survive in nature given the killing ability of the T6-positive strains, first by studying interactions between these strains in vitro. The results of her experimentation thus far have indicated that the T6-negative strains are activating an escape mechanism that allows them to avoid being killed. Furthermore, Williams has shown that the effectiveness of the proposed escape mechanism is dependent upon environmental factors.

Following her undergraduate education, Williams plans to continue studying science while incorporating legal studies as well, with the ultimate goal of pursuing a career in intellectual property law.