Island University Ph.D. Student and Scholarship Recipient Researches Corpus Christi Bay Bacteria

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Bacteria are a natural part of life and can be found everywhere. However, while unavoidable, bacteria are not something to be afraid of, according to Nicole Elledge, a Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Ph.D. student in the marine biology program who received a $9,000 Eugene and Millicent Goldschmidt Graduate Student Award last year. The funds helped her to kick-start her research on tracking bacteria that indicate fecal contamination in Corpus Christi Bay. While it may be a gross study, it’s one that’s important.

“Through this research, I’m hoping to find the best way to measure fecal contaminantion in the water and where it’s coming from so the city can better track and handle it,” said Elledge. “It will also be the main portion of my dissertation.”

The Eugene and Millicent Goldschmidt Graduate Student Award is granted to enrolled female master’s and doctoral students who plan to conduct studies in the field of microbiology. Recipients must also be a member of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and the Texas Branch ASM and are required to present their findings at an upcoming Texas Branch ASM meeting.

Coincidentally, this year’s meeting is being held at the Island University. For the first time, Elledge will present her findings in a presentation titled, “Stormwater is a Pulse Disturbance that Alters Bacterial Community Composition in Urbanized bays.”

“I’m very thankful for the opportunities that this scholarship has given me,” said Elledge. “It’s amazing that I’ll be able to present my research at the same conference where nationally and internationally known scientists will also be presenting.”

For nine months, Elledge visited six sites along the Corpus Christi Bay to gather water samples. From there, she looked for four different markers typically associated with fecal contamination, including the most commonly known enterococci. Elledge’s goals were to identify which bacteria was the best indicator of water contamination, and which animals the contamination was coming from. Her results showed that fecal contamination is present near storm drains in the bay, and it tends to increase after rain events. However, she doesn’t want her results to make people shy away from visiting the beach.

“I want people to be more aware of bacterial counts, so they can know when to stay away from the water,” said Elledge. “But, at the same time, they don’t need to be afraid of the water. I would encourage people to avoid swimming when they have open wounds and near storm drains where there will be higher levels of contamination.”

Elledge is excited to transform her research experience into another tool on her toolbelt, one that will help her as she pursues a career in research and teaching. She also looks forward to the possibility of one day heading her own laboratory.

“I really love teaching and working in a lab,” she said. “These are both places where I can give back and help people, and I know that’s where I’m meant to be.”

The Texas Branch ASM conference is a collaboration between several universities, including Texas A&M University-Kingsville and Del Mar College. This year’s conference will feature distinguished lecturer Dr. Cheryle Nickerson, professor in the Biodesign Center for Immunotherapy, Vaccines, and Virotherapy at Arizona State University, and keynote speaker Dr. Jason Gill, assistant professor of bacteriophage biology and microbiology at Texas A&M University. For more information on the meeting, click here.