Taking a trip to the East Coast is what college students might do for spring break, not for school.
Bridget Eklund didn’t have to wait for the March holiday to go to Washington D.C. Eklund, who is majoring in microbiology, attended the American Society of Microbiology and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting in the nation’s capital last week.
“My current research has involved the pathogen Francisella tularensis, which causes tularemia in humans,” Eklund said. “It is classified as a category A bioterrorist agent by the CDC because it only takes about 10 cells to develop an infection. Our lab has recently been working on developing a new model host for studying this pathogen (by) using cockroaches.”
Eklund presented some results found by her and others.
“(It) included intracellular and extracellular growth of F. tularensis, the response to orally delivered and injected antibiotics after the roaches were infected with F. tularensis LVS (live vaccine strain), and the dose-response survival curves of the roaches after infection of a known amount of bacterial cells,” Eklund said.
The junior from North Dakota State had 15 minutes to present why her model was better than the current insect models being used in the world today to study mammalian pathogens.
“I was the very last presenter of the three-day conference,” Eklund said. “It was a really neat experience for an undergraduate — all of the other presenters either had Ph.D.s or were post-doctorates or graduate students.”
After her presentation, the audience asked many questions. Eklund said people were interested in her model.
When Eklund first arrived at NDSU, she switched her major quickly to microbiology after she attended assistant professor Nathan Fisher’s lab.
“I have been working in Dr. Fisher’s lab since my freshman year, and our lab focuses on soil-dwelling opportunistic pathogens,” Eklund said.
Last November, Eklund made an abstract after working in Dr. Fisher’s lab and that project was selected to the Highlighted Oral Presentation at the ASM meeting earlier this month.
To make this trip possible, she started a crowdfunding campaign, which raises money for students’ projects and future works.
Eklund has one more year left at NDSU and plans to continue her works with Francisella tularensis and try to develop the cockroach model further.
“We hope to get a few publications within the next year, so we will be plenty busy,” Eklund said. “After I graduate, I plan to attend graduate school to earn a Ph.D. in infectious disease pathogenesis.”
Eklund said Dr. Fisher has been one of her greatest mentors, and he has supported her throughout her college career.
“He came with me to D.C. and had been really great at helping me network with other professionals in the field,” Eklund said. “The graduate students in Dr. Fisher’s lab have also been a huge support system and really great mentors. They have shown me a lot about what to expect as I continue onto graduate school.”
Eklund enrolled at NDSU because she knew the university had a focus on research, and she wanted to follow in the footsteps of her parents.
“Both my parents went to NDSU and majored in chemistry, so science has always been a part of my life,” Eklund said. “There are pictures of me as a kid wearing safety goggles and a white lab coat (dying) Easter eggs.”
As Eklund continues her journey in science, she said her brothers have been the most help from the beginning.
“I always joke that my brothers have helped me the most because I have no problem with working with the cockroaches or other bugs in the lab after growing up with them and enduring years of their practical jokes,” Eklund said.