Mucus’ influence on bacterial behavior Featured

    Summer Scholar Gaetana Michelet probes role mucus plays in protecting people from getting sick.

    Many bacteria that could potentially make us sick normally live in us without doing so, in part because of the protective role that mucus plays in our bodies. MPC-CMSE Summer Scholar Gaetana Michelet is studying how complex materials like mucus influence bacterial behavior in the Biogel Lab of Katharina Ribbeck, the Eugene Bell Career Development Professor of Tissue Engineering, at MIT.

    Michelet, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Puerto Rico, has been working with MIT Postdoctoral Associate Gerardo Cárcamo. “We are curious to understand how certain problematic pathogens can live on our body without causing infections. We try to understand the role of mucus in this process,” Cárcamo says. His own research focuses on bacterial interactions such as cell-to-cell communication and bacterial competition in a mucus environment.

    During a visit to the lab, Michelet explains that she works with microbes for her summer internship and is learning different techniques used in microbiology, such as growing bacteria in different media, seeing how they interact with materials like mucus, and how they grow in different ways. “For this project, I have integrated my materials science knowledge with the microbiology I've learned here,” she says.

    Summer Scholar Gaetana Michelet Pipette 9034 DP Web
    2017 MPC-CMSE Summer Scholar Gaetana Michelet holds a pipette in the Biogel Lab of Katharina Ribbeck, the Eugene Bell Career Development Professor of Tissue Engineering, at MIT. Ribbeck studies how complex materials like mucus influence bacterial behavior. Photo, Denis Paiste Materials Processing Center.

    “For me, it has been a real pleasure to work with Gaetana.” Cárcamo adds. “She's a really motivated student willing to learn many new things, and it has been a real good experience.”

    Michelet notes that “Although I am a mechanical engineer, I am interested in pursuing a new career in bioengineering, so this summer has been very exciting because I had the opportunity to experience this area, and I think it's a big milestone for my career.”

    Michelet’s internship is supported in part by NSF’s Materials Research Science and Engineering Centers program [grant DMR-14-19807]. Participants in the Research Experience for Undergraduates, co-sponsored by the Materials Processing Center and the Center for Materials Science and Engineering, presented their results at a poster session during the last week of the program. The program ran from June 15, 2017, to August 5, 2017, on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass.

    Denis Paiste, Materials Processing Center
    August 28, 2017

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    Summer Scholar Gaetana Michelet Luca Barloggio 9167 DP Web
    2017 MPC-CMSE Summer Scholar Gaetana Michelet discusses her summer internship on “Understanding Bacterial Behavior in a Mucus Environment” with MIT materials science graduate student Luca Barloggio [left] during the annual MPC-CMSE Summer Scholars Poster Session on Aug. 3, 2017. Photo, Denis Paiste Materials Processing Center.