Scientia 2007: Laura Christine Beale

Laura Christine Beale is receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biotechnology. Following graduation, Laura plans to pursue an occupation in her field of study and attend the Master of Science in Biotechnology program at Marywood University. Laura plans to attend graduate school in the fall of 2007 and following her degree, attend medical school to pursue a career as a Doctor of Medicine. She is a founding member, and current president of the Marywood University chapter of the American Chemical Society Student Affiliates, as well as a former officer and member of the Biology Club. She is also the recipient of the Sister M. Sylvia Morgan Medal for Premedical Studies. Laura elected to pursue a Citation in Honors as a means to enhance her undergraduate learning experience and to strengthen her passion for science. Laura would like to extend her gratitude to her thesis director and research advisor, Dr. Deborah Hokien, for her encouragement and expertise throughout this process; her reader, Dr. Jill A. Murray, for her perspective and contributions; Ms. Christina Elvidge for her support and invaluable guidance; Mr. Marty Gilligan and Dr. Brian Whitman for their excellent ideas and inspiration; and her family for their unconditional love and support of all her endeavors.

Bacterial Communication: An Environmentally Conscious Approach to Bioremediation

Director: Dr. Deborah Hokien
Reader: Dr. Jill Murray


Naturally occurring processes in plants and bacteria are used often to remove chemicals and heavy metals from contaminated water and soil. For chemical spills that are difficult to remove from a contaminated site, the organisms with the most potential for removing these pollutants are bacteria because they are inexpensive to maintain and have well characterized genomes. This characterization allows scientists to manipulate on a genetic level the ability of the bacteria to uptake or degrade chemicals and metals more efficiently. There are certain ethical concerns, however, that exist regarding the artificial genetic alteration of bacterial genomes in bioremediating bacteria. These concerns include: (1) the unknown effects the genetically altered bacteria will have on the environment and native bacterial species when released into a contaminated site and (2) how these bacteria will effect that environment once the contaminates have been degraded and removed. One approach to resolving these concerns is to observe communication between two different types of bacteria in the form of natural genetic exchange within a contaminated environment. The result can produce new hybrid bacteria with the ability to metabolize several different chemicals and metals than the native bacteria alone. The discovery and utilization of these natural hybrids can serve as an alternative to traditional genetically altered bacteria for environmental clean-ups. These naturally occurring hybrids can be created from species native to the contaminated site whose metabolic behaviors in that environment have already been characterized. Because these hybrid bacteria are native to the contaminated site in which they are used, it is likely that they will have no effect on that environment and other native bacterial species.

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