Assistant Professor of Science, Eric Sakowski (C’08), has co-published an article in the prestigious journal Nature Microbiology on bacteria and viruses that are naturally found in the environment. The focus of the research paper was to develop a method to see which bacteria in the environment are infected by a virus, as well as the type of virus that causes the infection. The method uses the same technology (polymerase chain reaction) that is currently used to test for SARS-Cov-2 in human patients.
“I have always been fascinated by the natural environment, so it was an easy decision to major in Biology when I came to the Mount,” Sakowski said.
He earned a B.S. in Biochemistry and Biology in 2008. Ever since graduating, he knew he wanted to conduct environmental research. While at the Mount, his Honors project examined how mosses could be indicators of heavy metal contamination in local streams with his advisor, Dr. Jeffrey Simmons.
After graduation, he attended the University of Delaware and joined the lab of Dr. Eric Wommack, an expert in bacteriophage ecology studying these viruses in the Chesapeake Bay. “The more I learned about these viruses, the more fascinated I became,” Sakowski quipped.
His fascination led him to join the lab of Dr. Sarah Preheim at Johns Hopkins University, where he was able to combine his expertise with her and develop a method for detecting viral infections in bacteria from the Chesapeake Bay.
Since returning to the Mount, Sakowski has been mentoring Julia Baer (C’21) who is majoring in Biology and Chemistry. Last year, she received the Goldwater Scholarship, a national scholarship for STEM majors intending to pursue research careers.
“Julia is a fantastic young scientist, and it is a pleasure to mentor her. When I returned to the Mount this past fall, Julia already knew exactly what she wanted to investigate for her honor’s project,” he said.
Baer is conducting research on the effects of microplastic pollution on bacteria and viruses in freshwater aquatic systems. “I chose this project because I want to pursue environmental microbiology in graduate school, and Dr. Sakowski has been the perfect mentor for this type of research because of his work with bacteria and viruses in aquatic ecosystems,” she stated.
Sakowski believes Baer’s research will help in the greater cause as viral infections have become important to maintaining a balanced and healthy ecosystem and in the human body. “In fact, we are starting to use viruses to treat antibiotic-resistant infections, and in the future, the method we have developed may help us identify viruses that could have therapeutic use,” Sakowski added.