Assistant Professor Nicole Fahrenfeld (CEE) is the principal investigator of a 2019 National Science Foundation (NSF) Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award titled “Controls on the Host and Transfer of Hazardous Genes.”
The goal of this project is to apply new techniques to monitor antibiotic resistant (AR) microbes in different environmental settings. This information will be used to track the transmission of antibiotic resistance through the environment.
According to Fahrenfeld, the link between human, animal, and environmental health (One Health) is exemplified by one of the most pressing public health issues: antibiotic resistance. Environmental hot spots of antibiotic resistance have been identified using techniques that do not identify the genetic context of antibiotic resistant genes (ARGs).
“Failure to understand the microbial ecology and mechanisms driving the proliferation of ARGs in the environment limits our ability to characterize the hazard posted by these genes and prevents the development of engineering solutions to limit the spread of antibiotic resistant infectious disease,” she says.
Additionally, the project will educate students in environmental engineering and interdisciplinary problem solving to tackle complex problems like AR transmission. Research opportunities will also be created for Puerto Rican and Hispanic students to broaden participation in STEM.
“My hope is that the knowledge gained from this project will contribute to understanding the transfer of resistance and thereby fulfill a critical data gap for quantitative microbial risk assessment. This information is critical for the design of engineered treatment systems,” says Fahrenfeld. “I also hope our results will contribute to understanding the conditions that promote beneficial transfers of functional genes, such as for biodegradation of pollutants.”
The NSF CAREER program fosters the career development of outstanding junior faculty, combining the support of research and education of the highest quality and in the broadest sense.