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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Todd McLeish 401-874-7892

URI student joins search for
new drugs from the sea

Summer research project makes
progress seeking new antibiotics

KINGSTON, R.I. -- October 15, 2003 -- University of Rhode Island sophomore Joselynn Wallace spent her summer immersed in the world of bacteria, hoping to find a key link between ocean sediments and antibiotics.
The Cumberland resident worked with URI Pharmacy Professor David Rowley in his ongoing research to find potential sources of antibiotics and other pharmaceutical products in microorganisms living in salt water.

Wallace collected bacteria found in the mud in Fisher’s Island Sound on the Connecticut coast and then worked to isolate those with antibacterial properties.

"The project was all about quorum sensing, which is how bacteria communicate with each other," the 19-year-old microbiology major explained. "Bacteria act as a group. If we can find out how they communicate with each other, we might be able to prevent them from banding together and causing infections and diseases. They can only cause trouble if there’s enough of them around acting together."

Wallace said that bacteria communicate with one another in a language composed of "chemical words," and that this communication process is vital in the establishment of bacterial infections. Her primary research objective was to find out if some bacteria produce metabolites that interfere with the communication process of other species. Identifying such a metabolite is the first step toward creating a new medicine that fights bacterial infections in a unique way.

It’s a lengthy process to first isolate the bacteria from the mud sediments, then identify the most promising strains, grow and culture them in large enough quantity to work with, extract the metabolites, and test them for their ability to inhibit bacterial communication.

"I found two different strains of bacteria that inhibit the communication, and we chose to focus on the one that looked like it was more potent. It took me all summer, mostly because we had to make sure we could reproduce our results. But it looks promising," Wallace said. "And it was a great experience! I learned a lot about microbiology and a lot about what people look for when they’re looking for new drugs."

Funding for her research was provided by Rhode Island Sea Grant through the URI Coastal Fellows Program, a unique program designed to involve undergraduate students in addressing current environmental problems. Now in its eighth year, the Coastal Fellows Program teams students with faculty, research staff and graduate students to help them gain skills that will ensure their future success.

"I didn’t really think I was a candidate for the program since I was just finishing up my freshman year, so when I got it I was shocked. The whole experience exceeded all of my expectations. I wasn’t expecting to get to do much of the important work, so I was amazed at how much the other researchers respected me and let me do my own thing," she said.

Wallace became interested in microbiology in fourth grade in Central Falls when a visitor to her class talked about germs. "She brought in petri dishes for all of us and let us swab whatever surface we wanted and streak it onto the plate. A few days later she came back in with our plates and there were things growing on them. I was really fascinated and have been ever since," Wallace said.

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Page last revised Wednesday, October 15, 2003 .