ARMAS in Education Center

Achieving in Research, Math, and Science

Spotlight /

Biology graduate student Laurel Carr isolates E. coli bacteria for her antibiotic resistant bacteria research study of Gallinas River water.

Las Vegas, N.M. – A Highlands University biology graduate student is conducting research to help determine how much impact humans and livestock have on bacteria in the Gallinas River, the primary water supply for Las Vegas.

Laurel Carr’s research will shed new light on antibiotic-resistant bacteria that occur naturally in untouched environments like the Gallinas River headwaters in the Pecos Wilderness. Baseline data is lacking for these kinds of bacteria from natural areas, and Carr’s is the first such study of the Gallinas.

“I’m interested in the natural levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in comparison to water that is influenced by humans and livestock,” Carr said. “The goal of this study is to identify the level of antibiotic resistance in E. coli bacteria isolated from water samples taken from five sites along the Gallinas.”

Carr will sample Gallinas River water ranging from its headwaters to before and after the Las Vegas water treatment plant and then downstream from the city’s wastewater treatment plant.

Carr said she expects to find more antibiotic resistant bacteria the further downstream she takes the samples due to human and livestock impacts.

“The rise of anitibiotic resistant bacteria concerns the medical clinical community because of the lack of new classes of FDA-approved antibiotics, making it harder to treat bacterial infections in humans,” Carr said.

Biology professor Ben Nelson, Carr’s adviser, said there are many different strains of E. coli, which is a digestive bacteria that occurs naturally in humans and essentially all vertebrate animals.

E. coli ranges from beneficial levels to ones that can be pathogenic in food and water. The bacteria’s presence is an indicator of fecal contamination.

“While we definitely have an increase of antibiotic-resistant bacteria isolated from hospitals and nursing homes, we have a deficiency of data showing the historical levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria from the natural environment,” Nelson said. “Laurel designed a good study that will help contribute to the understanding of the levels antibiotic resistance found in a natural environment.”

Nelson said that genes responsible for bacterial resistance to antibiotics have been present for thousands of years – long before humans produced antibiotics.

Carr is analyzing the water samples in Nelson’s Antimicrobial Research Laboratory at Highlands.

“In the lab, I first conduct water filtration on the samples and then isolate the E. coli bacteria. Next I expose the bacteria to disks containing 12 common antibiotics such as ciprofloxacin. If the bacteria grow too close to the antibiotic disk, it indicates antibiotic resistance,” Carr said.

The New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute awarded Carr a $6,000 grant to fund her research. As part of the grant, she will present her research poster at the International Caparica Conference in Antibiotic Resistance in Lisbon, Portugal in January 2015.

Carr plans to share her research findings with both the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute and the City of Las Vegas.

Carr earned her B.A. in health at Highlands in Spring 2014, with minors in chemistry and psychology. She earned dean’s list honors and was inducted into the Phi Kappa Phi honor society, serving as vice president.

As an undergraduate, Carr was a supplemental instruction leader for general chemistry and biology in the university’s Achieving in Research, Math and Science center, or ARMAS.

“Highlands has a very supportive academic environment and the faculty facilitates educational and research opportunities. I’m very grateful to them as well as the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute for funding my research,” Carr said.

After completing her graduate degree in biology, Carr plans to pursue medical school.

“My graduate research is broadening my knowledge about the use of antibiotics in the medical field,” Carr said.


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