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Summer Program Offers Unique Research Opportunity

For Eddy Cruz, a summer well spent is working in a lab at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine.

The NC State rising senior microbiology major from Monroe, N.C., is spending his second summer in the lab of his mentor, Johanna Elfenbein, assistant professor of equine medicine, investigating what helps the bacteria Salmonella survive and thrive in animals.

Cruz began his work last year in the lab through a NC State Comparative Medicine Institute research internship.

For this summer’s work, he was awarded a undergraduate research fellowship from the American Society of Microbiology for his work this summer exploring the largely unknown role the compound dimethyl sulfoxide plays in fostering growth of Salmonella Typhimurium in the intestine of mammals. Salmonella is one of the leading bacterial causes of gastroenteritis in humans and animals.

“There’s an entire microbial story that unfolds before the clinical signs of disease manifest,” said Cruz. “How did the microbe get to the site of infection? What barriers did it have to overcome to survive there? What genes does it turn on or off to cope with the complex environment there?

“This project allows me to probe a piece of that story.”

Elfenbein, whose research lab focuses on Salmonella, said she feels fortunate to mentor the “bright, enthusiastic and inquisitive” Cruz. She’s particularly proud to be a part of the ASM program that helps train future microbiologists by financially supporting 10 to 12 weeks of summer research. The fellowship program also provides travel funds for students to attend the ASM Microbe Academy for Professional Development and present work at the ASM Microbe conference.

Johanna Elfenbein, assistant professor of equine medicine.

“The fellowship is a phenomenal way for Eddy to pursue an independent research project, to present his work and to network with like-minded students,” said Elfenbein. “This is a truly unique opportunity that will benefit talented young students.”

Cruz, a first-generation college student, said the guidance received at the CVM has been invaluable. The CMI internship is just one way undergraduates gain research experience through the CVM. The CVM’s Undergraduate Research Program offers an array of research experiences based on scientific interests.

“I have been fortunate that everyone I have interacted with at the CVM has been nothing but supportive of my research endeavors and academic progress,” he said. “I doubt that I would have accomplished what I have so far, had it not been for the mentors that I have gained here.”

Cruz isn’t sure what will come after graduation; he’s considering applying to various DVM and Ph.D. programs. What he does know is that he would like to continue the type of host-microbe research he has done at the CVM.

“As for my long-term goals, I haven’t fully decided,” said Cruz. “But I doubt I could stay away from a research lab.”

~Jordan Bartel/NC State Veterinary Medicine