I have been eager to carry out a lab-based project to gain experience in the career I want to pursue since the beginning of my second year. Ever since I was introduced to the topic of cell wall structure and its links to antimicrobial resistance, I had a long-standing interest for the topic. Specifically, I found it fascinating that bacteria are able to partly deconstruct their cellular structure without undermining their integrity, which would lead to cell death through bursting (lysis). In order to gain the opportunity to work on this topic myself, I reached out to my microbiology lecturer Dr Stéphane Mesnage who had initially lectured us on this topic. He kindly introduced me to Dr Bartłomiej Salamaga. We applied with a project investigating the contribution of specific endopeptidase enzymes in Staphylococcus aureus to the organism’s antimicrobial resistance and cell wall composition. Although I was initially meant to carry out the project in the summer of 2020, this was unfortunately cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I carried it out in the summer of 2021.
Throughout my time in the laboratory, I realized how much I have changed in terms of my increased confidence while carrying out experiments and how I seemed to have a better understanding of the scientific concepts that had been theoretically introduced to me in my lectures. It was an incredibly enjoyable challenge to think about the results we have obtained from our experiments and to think about how we can proceed with the results at hand. I particularly enjoyed dealing with the HPLC data we obtained in order to investigate the action of our enzymes of interest on peptidoglycan by looking at the differences in the peptidoglycan compositions of the wild-type strain and the mutants we generated to be deficient in these enzymes. It was very satisfying to be able to take the challenge of turning what initially felt like pages of incomprehensible numerical data into clear plots that could be interpreted. Apart from data analyses, I found experimental steps like establishing minimum inhibitory concentrations and peptidoglycan extraction to be particularly fun.
This has been an invaluable opportunity for me as I was able to not only gain hands-on experience and expand my knowledge into this research area, but also be integrated into a research environment. The weekly lab meetings I was encouraged to attend were highly informative about both the science carried out on S. aureus as an organism, but also on how research labs function in general. Discussions I had with Dr Salamaga and the remaining members of my lab were very intellectually-stimulating and it was the first time I felt like a member within the research community. With the skills I have acquired and practiced, as well as the insights I have gained from my time during this project, I am now more confident than ever to pursue a career in research. I would like to thank SfAM for funding this summer project and allowing me to have this incredible opportunity for my professional development.
University of Sheffield