Preventing terrorism through bioscience
Kenzie Shippy knew her passion
for science would open new, exciting paths for her. She just didn’t anticipate
those paths would lead to studying direct threats to national security.
And yet, with no prior experience
in a lab setting or chemistry background, Shippy, a junior majoring in
microbiology, found herself conducting critical research as an undergraduate
research specialist in the world-renowned Center
for Microbial Genetics and Genomics (MGGen) at Northern Arizona University.
first started, it was pretty scary,” Shippy says. “There’s a lot that you have
to know, which was intimidating with no experience. I had to learn all the
techniques, learn the methods behind them, and why we perform them. I’ve learned a lot, but I still need help
when I use new techniques. I’m always learning.”
Under the microscope
recipient of the All-Arizona Academic Team full ride scholarship, Shippy is
currently working with MGGen on a four-year project involving the study of
burkholderia. This bacterium is known to be associated with melioidosis, a
disease known to cause chest pain, skin infections, and pneumonia.
the labs, they divide the groups according to the kind of bacteria they work
on,” Shippy says. “There are five
different groups within the lab. All the undergraduates had to be working with different
types of bacteria that could be considered a threat.”
and her team work with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency to differentiate
pathogenic, disease-causing burkholderia from its non-pathogenic counterparts.
She explains that current knowledge on burkholderia is scarce, and that
discovering what makes it pathogenic is key in combating potential bioterrorism
it is disease-causing and can be found in the soil, it gives it a really high
potential of being used as a biological weapon,” Shippy says. “We want to
sequence the DNA of non-pathogenic burkholderia and compare it to the
pathogenic strains - how it differs will show us which genes are pathogenic and
what can cause disease.”
stationed overseas could be easily exposed to soil containing burkholderia, for
example, and Shippy says it is important to determine whether or not it’s
reason the Defense Agency is so focused on this bacteria is because it is so
poorly understood,” Shippy says. “It could be easy for someone to acquire it,
so we want to be able to develop tests that tell us whether it’s a pathogen or
research specialist, Shippy earns up to six credit hours per semester towards
her bachelor’s degree, in addition to student wages. More importantly, the
opportunity to apply classroom lessons in a real-world setting has simultaneously
provided Shippy with a more comprehensive understanding of her course material
and further insight into her research.
months, I have learned so much,” Shippy says. “Last semester, when I took my
genetics class, I felt like I was ahead of the curve because so much of what we
were learning I already knew from work. The material definitely corresponds to
what I’m doing in the lab and each type of learning informs the other.”
expects to draw on these lessons as she prepares to pursue a secondary degree
at a physician’s assistant’s school. She believes her work with MGGEN will allow
her to more fully understand the human body and how to properly treat it.
her eyes now to the future, Shippy is grateful for the experiences she has gained
and the doors that have opened for her going forward.
“Getting a degree in microbiology will help me achieve all of my goals,”
Shippy says. “The research opportunities that I’ve had here have been amazing.
It’s really been a once in a lifetime opportunity to work out of that lab.”