Dr. Jonathan Caguiat, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Youngstown State University, can trace his research on metal-resistant bacteria back to his time spent as a graduate student at Michigan State University.
He explained the history of the Y-12 plant in Oakridge, TN, and how toxic metals like uranium and mercury contaminated the soil and water there during World War II and the Cold War.
“My PhD advisor went down to Oakridge in 1989 and he dug up some soil samples right next to the plant and then a mile downstream,” said Dr. Caguiat. “So I work with bacteria that has been isolated from this creek. I look at different metal resistances.”
After his PhD advisor brought back the samples, Dr. Caguiat added a growth medium and spread the samples on plates. He froze the bacteria that grew to preserve them for later study.
“So we’ll expose them to different types of metal like mercury, maybe cadmium or zinc, looking for genes that are involved in [metal resistance],” said Dr. Caguiat. “We have isolated some bacterial metal resistance genes and can search for them in other bacterial strains.”
Some of the practical outcomes of this research are bioremediation—“cleaning up” in nature—and human medicine. Different metal resistances have different applications, and much of this is still being studied.
Dr. Caguiat earned his bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in molecular biology, and his PhD is in microbiology.
He uses his research as a valuable classroom tool to get students working hands-on and prepared for their own future research.