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Undergraduate Researchers

Neeti Goel, SURF Scholar

Detection and Differentiation of Bacillus Endospores using Fluorescence Spectroscopy

The threat of bacterial pathogens, such as the anthrax-causing Bacillus anthracis, as biological weapons has made it more urgent to understand the mechanism and properties of bacterial endospores. In harsh conditions the bacterium transforms into endospores which can remain dormant for many years and then germinate in favorable conditions, such as a human host. A detailed understanding of certain spore characteristics can help improve the methodology and instruments used by first responders in a biohazard emergency to ensure rapid, accurate, and non-invasive detection. This study attempts to use the characteristic of intrinsic fluorescence to differentiate molecular species by their unique spectra. The effects of certain germinant nutrients and temperature on the growth and germination of the Bacillus spores were also characterized. A comparative analysis was done of the spectra of different strains of Bacillus thuringiensis and Bacillus cereus (both simulants for Bacillus anthracis) grown in three different growth media. After several calibration curves of Dipicolinic acid (DPA) and DPA complexes were created, the samples were scanned for these endogenous fluorescent molecules. Measurements of the concentration of the fluorescent DPA complexes were used to follow the germination of the spores.

How did you find out about SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship)?

This was my second summer at NIST, I first found out about NIST through online research.


How did you know this was the laboratory you wanted to work in?

I read about all the labs on the NIST web site until I found the right lab. I was interested in biochemical research having done it in the past.


Is this your first independent research project?

I was a part of the SURF program last summer and have worked in a drug design laboratory at the Emory University School of Medicine.


How much time do you put into it?

SURF is an eleven-week summer program, 40 hours per week. 


What academic background did you have before you started?

I had completed two years toward my degree, a B.S. in Biological Sciences before going to NIST for Summer 2010.


Was the application difficult to do?
The application was very user-friendly.


What is your advice to other students about getting involved in research? 

For summer internships, start the process the fall semester before. Ask your professors for a recommendation letter well in advance and have your resume and cover letters reviewed by someone before you submit them.


What has been the hardest part about your research?

Data analysis and designing further experiments to test or narrow conclusions made from current experiments. 


What was the most unexpected thing?

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed working in the lab. I didn't mind working late into the afternoon because I really enjoyed what i was doing. 


How does your research relate to your work in other classes?

My science classes definitely gave me a background to help me further learn and understand the advanced concepts required to do this independent project. In particular I used material I had learned from organic chemistry, physics, and cell biology