Tracy Munthali Lunde
What is your field/topic of research?
The oral cavity is one of the most abundant bacteria environments on the human body, and reports of antibiotic resistance genes in the mouth have been increasing. My project looks at one of the mobile elements (Tn916), known to be responsible for spreading antibiotic resistance in bacteria. I study the prevalence, stability and transfer of Tn916 among the most abundant species in the mouth: the Streptococcus species.
What is your motivation to do this particular research?
I was always intrigued by science and like to understand how things work and why they are as they are. After learning about antibiotic resistance in bacteria and the threat it poses to human health, I wanted to learn more about this and how bacteria adapt in order to survive. I was also motivated by how big of a threat this has become to modern medicine. Antibiotic resistance related infections are currently responsible for more than 700 000 deaths worldwide every year. If we do not intervene, it is predicted that the number will rise to more than 10 million people each year by 2050.
Is there a specific event, experience or inspiration that made you interested in the field?
My interest in the topic was sparked in 2002 when Zambia, my home country, refused to accept genetically modified food aid from the US due to insufficient knowledge on the dangers of GMO foods. One source of concern was the use of antibiotic resistance genes/markers on Genetically Modified Microorganisms (GMO), and the potential risk of transferring these to humans. In 2004 I joined a research institution that worked on establishing a laboratory to detect GMO. I have since then worked with antibiotic resistance research.
Have you experienced any resistance or doubt about your own research?
Yes, I have, as most researchers will admit. I wondered whether we are actually getting a clear picture about the resistant bacteria or not. The one thing that has always been clear, however, is that working with bacteria is challenging. My days in the lab are never dull or boring. When working with molecular techniques in research, new challenges and insights arise very often. I have respect for bacteria. Although they are much smaller than we are, they are smart cells. Even after studying them for many years, we still have a lot to learn.