NMC Student Highlight: PhD Student Stephanie Getto
Stephanie Getto is a first year PhD student at New Mexico State University, in the Molecular Biology and Interdisciplinary Life Sciences program. As a New Mexico Consortium researcher, she is currently in the beginning stages of developing research questions relevant to her field and is under the mentorship of Dr. Alina Corcoran. Stephanie assists with some day-to-day processes related to the OSPREY project, which aims to improve productivity, stability, and quality of algal production strains for biofuels and bioproducts. Broadly, she is interested in algae-pest interactions in both natural and artificial systems, and understanding the environmental drivers and conditions that mediate them.
Stephanie is interested in studying both virulence factors and antibiotic resistant genes within the bacterial genome of the OSPREY project’s outdoor cultivation ponds, in order to better characterize bacterial pests that may cause pond crashes. Previous studies have demonstrated that these genes are often linked; understanding virulence factors within bacterial pests in algae ponds could help us develop data-driven crop protection strategies. Understanding conditions that select for antibiotic resistant genes could have direct implications for industries intending to use microalgae cultivation for potential food products for both livestock and humans, as introduction of these genes into the human diet could further contribute to the global health issue of increasing antibiotic resistance.
Stephanie says she would also like to study this concept within a natural system that is routinely affected by anthropogenic forces, such as agricultural runoff, that causes regular harmful algal blooms (HABs). She is curious about whether HAB conditions increase virulence factors and antibiotic resistant genes, and this information could also help inform the scientific community about the suitability for using agricultural wastewater as a culture medium for microalgae open pond cultivation.
She is also interested in the predator-prey interactions between microalgae and the protozoan pests that consume them within open pond setups. Understanding these interactions can better enable algae growers to protect their crop from grazing, with the goal of improving product yield and lowering maintenance costs. Making microalgae cultivation as efficient and cost effective as possible is essential for enabling the viability of the microalgal cultivation industry in mainstream production, an industry which could potentially allow less environmentally friendly products such as liquid fossil fuels, or even plastics, to be replaced by algae products that produce less waste, are sustainable, and can be grown on nonarable land.
Featured photo of Stephanie Getto at work.