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Illinois Ag News Headlines
WIU, Collaborators Discover 15 New Species of Bacteria
Illinois Ag Connection - 02/22/2017

Research by Western Illinois University biology graduate student Paris Hamm, of Macomb, in collaboration with WIU faculty, has resulted in the discovery of important bacteria that impacts the mortality of bats in the United States and Canada.

Hamm has published "Western Bats as a Reservoir of Novel Streptomyces Species with Antifungal Activity" in the journal of the American Society of Microbiology. The journal will spotlight the article in March.

Hamm's research was conducted with WIU Associate Professor of Biological Sciences Andrea Porras-Alfaro in her fungal ecology lab. Their study reports the largest collection of Actinobacteria from bats in an effort to stop the growth of Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the fungus that can kill bats in the U.S. and Canada.

The disease is known as White Nose Syndrome, first reported in the U.S. in 2009 and reaching Illinois in 2011. There is not currently a cure or a way to control the disease.

The research by Hamm and Porras-Alfaro identified 15 potential species of Actinobacteria by using genetic analysis and a laboratory assay to test 632 bacteria obtained from healthy bats. The Actinobacteria are found in soil and skin of mammals and are important producers of antibiotics.

"We are very fortunate to benefit from great collaborations with multiple institutions," said Porras-Alfaro. "Paris' research is extremely relevant in a time when we are seeing the rise of multi-antibiotic resistant microbes. The discovery of new species of microorganisms that have the capacity to produce antimicrobials could open new doors to the control not only of this devastating bat disease but many other infections. Paris started early as an undergraduate researcher and has benefited from the strong support WIU has on undergraduate and graduate research"

Porras-Alfaro said she and Hamm are currently working with the University of New Mexico and the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Peoria on a formal description of several of the new bacteria species. She added that the pair's research has been directly impacted by WIU's Research Inspiring Student Excellence (RISE) and Women in Science (WIS) programs, as well as WIU's College of Arts and Sciences.

Hamm received her bachelor's degree in Biology and French from WIU in Spring 2015 before starting graduate school at Western. She conducted her honor's thesis with Porras-Alfaro.

Hamm is currently applying for doctoral programs in evolutionary biology and ecology, specifically to study disease ecology and interactions between microbes and their hosts. She hopes to one day become a professor or a lead scientist in a national laboratory.

"My research through WIU has inspired me, enticed my curiosity and made me a stronger scientist," said Hamm. "It is with the support from WIU's Centennial Honors College, RISE, WIS, the WIU College of Arts and Sciences and the Biological Sciences Department that I have been able to publish a manuscript, travel to national conferences and apply for PhD programs."

To read Hamm's article, visit

The research is a collaboration between WIU, the University of New Mexico, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Geological Survey. Funding for this study was provided by the Eppley Foundation, the National Park Service, the Western National Park Association and the Bureau of Land Management. Additional funding was provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Agricultural Resource Funding through the USDA and the New Mexico Game and Fish Department and Cave Conservatory.

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