One may not expect to find that success begins with collecting soil from Swarthmore's Dean Bond Rose Garden. But that's exactly where Nina Kogekar '13, an honors biology major, spent her summer searching for soil bacteria that can break down fungicide. Kogekar is now the recent recipient of an undergraduate research fellowship from the American Society for Microbiology [ASM], the premier institute for microbiologists.
As an ASM Fellow, Kogekar will receive a $4,000 stipend, a two-year membership in the ASM, and the opportunity to conduct research at one of their institutes under ASM mentorship in 2013. This competitive fellowship - over 112 applied, most from research universities - is intended for students wishing to pursue graduate careers in microbiology. Of the 56 awarded, only eight were from liberal arts colleges.
Triazole fungicide, the focus of Kogekar's research, is a common fungicide applied to lawn and golf courses, notable for its harmful effects on the environment. "Some members of this fungicide class can be detrimental to other organisms, so it is of interest to find bacteria that can break the fungicides down faster," says Kogekar.
So far, Kogekar has isolated a "community of bacteria" responsible for breaking down the fungicide. Her task now is to identify which bacteria are "primary degraders" or fill a secondary function, and which have just "come along for the ride," explains Professor of Biology Amy Vollmer, who mentored Kogekar throughout the process.
Kogekar's work has already spawned student projects analyzing other soil samples for bacteria with similar degrading properties. "They are following in the path that Nina has blazed," Vollmer says.
"I have enjoyed working with Nina, learning about the complex 'wild' communities in the soil," Vollmer adds. "I have shared in her joy of discovery and have helped her deal with the inevitable frustration of experiments that failed or gave strange results."
The ASM Undergraduate Fellowship will also help pay for Kogekar's trip to the 113th ASM General Meeting, where she may have the ability to present her work. "What I'm most excited about is that this award provides me with the opportunity to attend the ASM General Meeting this spring," says Kogekar. "I think it will be interesting to learn more about the current research going on in microbiology."