One of the many perks of conducting research in the Department of Biological Sciences at Barnard is the opportunity to work closely with one of our faculty members to publish original research papers during a student's undergraduate career. In their recent publication, Conjugation dynamics depend on both the plasmid acquisition cost and the fitness cost, the Lopatkin Lab demonstrated that the hours immediately following conjugation may play a significant role in plasmid prevalence. Today, we sit down with Hannah Prensky (BC '22), first author on this paper (pictured to the left), to discuss her contributions to this important project.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m in my third year at Barnard and I’m double majoring in cellular & molecular biology and economics. I grew up in Frederick, Maryland where I became interested in biology while conducting mRNA research at the National Cancer Institute during high school. Currently, I work in Professor Allison Lopatkin's lab where we investigate antibiotic resistance through the lens of metabolism. I was drawn to her lab partly because of the computational aspect to the work and partly because I was really interested in studying bacteria.
For those of us not familiar with this area of research, could you break your publication down for us?
We study antibiotic resistance because it is a major public health threat that is poised to cause the next global health emergency. We know that genes that make bacteria cells resistant to antibiotics are often carried on plasmids, which are fragments of DNA that can spread easily through populations. However, we don’t know how acquiring new resistance genes affects a cell’s growth or overall competitiveness. In my recently published paper, we studied immediate growth impacts of acquiring new plasmids, which is research that helps to more accurately predict how antibiotic resistance spreads and how to prevent it.
In the Lopatkin Lab, a strong community feeling is an important part of the lab culture as discussed in a recent interview with Professor Lopatkin. How do you help support your lab mates and how do they support you?
I joined the lab during Professor Lopatkin’s first semester at Barnard, and it has been amazing to watch the lab grow and flourish since this time last year. While we can’t yet physically all work with one another at the same time, we do work together to set up experiments and maintain the lab. We also create a strong community feeling during lab meetings by fostering an environment in which we can all practice presenting our projects in a supportive, respectful atmosphere.
Looking back to when I had never done research before, I would advise my younger self to try new things and learn as much as possible along the way! ...[this] is the perfect time to figure out exactly what you like to research, and the best way to do that is to have an open mind about everything.
Lastly, looking back to when you had never done research before, what advice would you give your younger self?
Looking back to when I had never done research before, I would advise my younger self to try new things and learn as much as possible along the way! I think being an undergraduate is the perfect time to figure out exactly what you like to research, and the best way to do that is to have an open mind about everything.
Anything else you'd like us to know?
I’m super excited to have had my first first-author paper published, but what makes this accomplishment even more special is that it is also Professor Lopatkin’s first senior-author paper! I’m so proud of what we were able to do together, especially considering that a lot of the analysis and experiments were conducted during the height of the pandemic when the lab was closed/heavily restricted. It is very special to be able to share this accomplishment together, as I couldn’t have done any of this without her invaluable mentorship!
To learn more about what Professor Lopatkin studies, check out the Lopatkin Lab website.