A question & answer session to get to know the 2021 GG Scholar Samantha Kisthardt, 1st year graduate student in the Microbiology Program. She has joined the Theriot Lab.

What aspect of genetics and/or genomics most interests you?

Broadly speaking, I am most interested in how genetics influence disease development and responses. On the human side I am interested in both how our genes can influence the way we respond to pathogens, and how genetics can play a role in the development of diseases such as cancer or autoimmune disorders. As a microbiologist, I am also extremely interested in how microbial genetics affect pathogenesis and the genetic changes that microbes can undergo to gain a foothold in their hosts.

What (or Who) influenced you to go into your field of study?

I was fortunate enough to take General Microbiology as a dual enrolled high school student and absolutely fell in love with the field. I have always been interested in medicine, and pictured myself in a clinician role. However, my undergraduate research experience in microbiology shifted my interests to research and therapeutic development. Having taken courses that dealt with immunology, pathogenesis, and genetics, I found myself more interested in how pathogens gain a foothold in the body and how humans respond to disease. Additionally, the mentorship of several faculty members at NC State has helped me develop my passion for microbiology and guided me towards the research field.

Who or what do you hope benefits from your research?

I hope my findings can be applied to optimize the treatment of GI pathogens and elucidate the roles that commensals play in preventing the colonization of pathogens. As antimicrobial resistance in GI pathogens becomes a more pressing issue in medicine, I hope my research can be used to reduce the burden of disease caused by antimicrobial resistance. I know that this requires the efforts of many individuals, and the issue of antimicrobial resistance cannot be completely eliminated during my time as a graduate student, however, I hope to contribute to this area throughout my career in research.

How can your research be used to inform decision makers (e.g. policy makers, resource managers, health practitioners, K12 educators, etc etc)?

Ultimately, I hope my research and interests can be used to inform decisions in a few areas. The overuse of antibiotics in treating certain pathogens has caused antimicrobial resistance to increase rapidly. I hope that my work can help reduce the burden of antimicrobial resistance by leading to the usage of alternative therapeutics that are less prone to resistance. Additionally, I hope my work can guide proper antimicrobial stewardship and decision making in healthcare .

Outside of my specific research interests, I am also interested in public health. I hope I can use my research and interests in promoting approachable public health education to reduce the anxieties that people may face regarding health decisions. While science is often communicated in a jargon heavy way, I hope to bridge the gap and make science more accessible so people can make better informed decisions.

What do you think is the most pressing issue or problem in your field of study?

I think there are a few different issues facing the field of microbiology. As far as my interests go, I think the development of antimicrobial resistance in an increasing number of pathogens is very pressing in that we are quickly running out of treatment options and must now look to other methods to eliminate infections. Outside of my immediate research interests, I think a lack of digestible scientific communication has definitely hurt my field, as evidenced by the spread of misinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a community, we need to improve at communicating our research with the public and making our work more approachable.

How do you expect the GG Scholars program to impact your work?

Having been with the GG Scholars for a few months now, I can already see it impacting my work. I have found myself contemplating the underlying genetic mechanisms involved in pathways that I am studying. Additionally, I am incorporating genetic components and learning about the many links between genetics and microbiology. 

I am also very excited about the big data course in the spring, and I think it will be a great way to improve on my data management and apply new skills to my research.

How would you describe your research interests to a 3rd grader?

Everyone has microbes. While some of these microbes are bad, the majority help us do important things like digest our food or fight off sickness. I want to know how we can use these friendly microbes to help people get better when they get sick, and how bad microbes make people sick in the first place.

What’s your dream job?

I want to start by saying I absolutely love yogurt and want to start making my own. With that being said, in a perfect world, I would have a startup company that is focused on developing probiotic yogurts that can be optimized for people’s specific microbiomes.