An Internship in Microbiology for Use in Bioarchaeology

This fall, at Mississippi State University, I will start the second year of my Master’s program in Applied Anthropology with a focus in bioarchaeology, and the first year of my Doctoral program in Biological Sciences. My research will involve the analysis and reconstruction of the oral microbiome from ancient dental calculus, from several different samples. These samples will be analyzed in order to examine the health of individuals in the past, as well as to determine the changes in microbial composition that occurred over time. This summer, I interned with Dr. Heather Jordan in her microbiology laboratory in the Department of Biological Sciences at Mississippi State University. One of the focuses of Dr. Jordan’s research is microbial ecology, and her work involves genomics, transcriptomics, and next-generation sequencing to examine how microbial communities function, affect fitness, and impact host health. Additionally, Dr. Jordan works with Mycobacterium ulcerans, as well as examining postmortem changes in microbial community structure.

During this internship I was trained in different methodologies, and worked on focusing and refining the research goals for my thesis. The methods that I learned, and subsequently practiced, will be employed during the data collection and analysis stage of my thesis work. The first techniques that I worked on were the extraction and isolation of DNA from soil and microbial samples, as well as using DNA cleanup kits to further concentrate the DNA and remove chemical compounds. These processes are performed to destroy the bacterial cells, remove all organic and chemical contaminants, and concentrate the DNA so that it can be used in downstream applications such as quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR), 16S metagenomic sequencing, or whole genome sequencing. In addition to soil samples, I also worked with several dental calculus samples from early 20th century burials. The DNA was extracted from these samples, and a portion was sent for metagenomic sequencing, while another portion was used to determine if specific pathogenic bacteria such as Treponema denticola, Porphyromonas gingivalis, and Streptococcus pneumonia were present. This was performed using PCR, in conjunction with specific bacterial primers, and running the results on a gel electrophoresis machine. Based on the results from the gel, we were able to determine if the bacteria we were looking for were present.

Gel Electrophoresis-1 Gel Electrophoresis

My time spent in Dr. Jordan’s lab has been incredibly beneficial to not only my immediate research goals, but my eventual career as a scientist and researcher. These research methods and techniques will be crucial to my thesis, and will allow me to cross departmental lines to conduct research into an area of which we know very little. I am very grateful to receive this training, and look forward to implementing it in future research endeavors.

Jonathan R. Belanich

Bioarchaeology Graduate Student