Notice of Online Archive

  • This page is no longer being updated and remains online for informational and historical purposes only. The information is accurate as of the last page update.

    For questions about page contents, contact the Communications Division.

Neuroscience major Stephanie Giordano ’05 (Blauvelt, N.Y.) has spent the last two years analyzing water samples and attempting to combat antibiotic resistance.

She is working under the guidance of Laurie Caslake, assistant professor of biology, to conduct research on bacteria isolated from Onondaga Lake in Syracuse, N.Y.

Giordano spent the summer attempting to determine if the bacteria contained an integron — a genetic element capable of opening and inserting new resistance genes into the bacteria. Integrons allow bacteria to acquire new genetic elements from other organisms in the same surrounding. Caslake compares an integron to molecular Velcro.

“I found that integrons are present in both mercury-sensitive and mercury-resistant bacteria,” she says. “This year I am collecting new bacteria samples and doing the experiment again.”

Bacteria develop resistance to environmental toxins and then share their DNA with one another. Caslake explains that Onondaga Lake is contaminated with high levels of mercury, and many bacteria there are resistant to mercury as well as multiple antibiotics.

The project began the summer before her junior year as part of Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students conduct research with faculty while earning a stipend. The program has helped to make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate each year share their work through articles in academic journals and/or conference presentations.

Giordano continued the study as an independent project last school year, then as an EXCEL Scholar again this summer. This fall she is continuing the research through a second yearlong independent study project.

“Dr. Caslake and I went to Onondaga Lake to collect bacteria samples from both the water and sediment at two different sites,” she says. “I plan to evaluate the percentage of the bacteria resistant to mercury and test all the bacteria for antibiotic resistances. I will then use a hybridization technique to test the bacteria for the presence of an integron.”

Giordano plans to complete the study before she graduates next May and may co-author a paper on it for submission to a scientific journal. She has enjoyed working closely with Caslake, whom she considers supportive, encouraging, and knowledgeable about the topic.

“She really helps you to motivate yourself,” Giordano says. “Her interest in the topic feeds how much I find it fascinating.”

“Stephanie is great,” Caslake says. “Although she hadn’t taken Molecular Biology before she started, she was able to learn several of the techniques I teach in class and apply them to her research project.”

Caslake has included more than a dozen Lafayette students in her research since joining the faculty in fall 1999, with a number of projects focusing on microorganisms found in polluted bodies of water. Several students have coauthored papers with her that have been published in academic journals, and many of her student collaborators have shared their research at conferences such as the annual meetings of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and the Pennsylvania Academy of Science.

Giordano is a member of Lafayette Society for Neuroscience and plays club soccer. She also is vice president of member education for the Delta Gamma sorority.

She served two internships last summer, one in the dentistry field with Saul Pressner ’75 and another in the field of optometry with Janie Marcolini. After both experiences, she felt optometry was a better fit and applied to several schools this fall.

“It’s great that students have the opportunity to do EXCEL Scholars programs,” Giordano says. “At other schools, they don’t have the resources and students are less likely to work closely with a professor and form a relationship.”

“The opportunity to work closely with faculty on their research projects is not available at every institution,” Caslake adds. “To work for pay in the summer on research is something that more students should consider doing.”

As a national leader in undergraduate research, Lafayette sends one of the largest contingents to the National Conference on Undergraduate Research each year. Forty-two students were accepted to present their work at the last annual conference in April.

Categorized in: Academic News