Biology

A Reversal of Roles: Alumnus Explains Current Microbial Research

Ursinus Biology alumnus Dr. Nikolas Stasulli recently “returned” to campus for a virtual seminar detailing his current research as an Assistant Professor at the University of New Haven.

Dr. Stasulli was a familiar face for a few in attendance at his virtual seminar, as he is a former Biochemistry and Molecular Biology student at Ursinus. He attributes the groundwork for his success in the research field to the hands-on course work and lab experience he gained as an undergraduate student = His biggest suggestion for students considering a career in research was to pursue joining one of the various faculty-led research labs sooner rather than later: “The more research experience you can get, the sooner you can see if it’s your career passion.” Luckily, Ursinus is teeming with opportunity, especially when regarding the sciences. From Summer Fellows, an independent research program offered during summer break, to the Celebration of Student Achievement (CoSA) where students are able to present their research projects to the campus community, Dr. Stasulli’s advice is to take advantage of what the school has to offer.

Just as research molded his undergraduate experience and led to further inquiry, Dr. Stasulli aims to do the same for students working in his lab at the University of New Haven. Parallel to Ursinus, the smaller class sizes allow for personal instruction while also facilitating an independent environment to study microbial communities, the star of his research.

Interestingly, these microbes are capable of communication, although not quite the way humans are. Instead of texts or emails, microbial communities interact by producing metabolites that facilitate signals. Although the metabolites have a number of roles, perhaps most useful is the ability of certain kinds to inhibit the growth of other fungi or bacteria. In nature, this allows the microbes to create their own niche or compete with one another, but- and perhaps most useful to us- this anti-microbial activity gives rise to the majority of antibiotics we know and depend on today. Dr. Stasulli believes his research has the potential to discover compounds that solve a plethora of growing concerns surrounding harmful microbial growth. For example, the derivation of new anti-sporulation agents could inhibit disease-causing bacteria like anthrax, anti-biofilm agents may aid in preventing medical-tubing infections, or novel antibiotics may help combat the growing concern of antibiotic resistance (a central topic of our very own BIO-101 course!), are all prospective directions of his research.

To learn more about Dr. Stasulli and his research, click here to watch the recorded seminar.

-By Jordan Ulsh