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From poop to poster: A new undergrad’s summer research experience in the Newton Lab

For one month this summer, Lauren, an incoming freshman participating in the UR@UWM program, was paired with us to manage the research project “Milwaukee Microbes.” Lauren is a nursing student with interests in public health and epidemiology, so she was an excellent fit in our group.

In the Newton Lab, we seek to understand some of the interactions between urban and natural microbial communities. When treated and untreated sewage is flushed into Milwaukee’s waterways, we wonder how that influences microbes in the rivers and Lake Michigan.

Lauren addressed these questions by growing microbes from different water sources on lab-made media. She started with three water sources – wastewater treatment plant influent (untreated sewage), wastewater treatment plant effluent (treated sewage), and surface water from Lake Michigan.

Lauren made media out of each water source (influent, effluent, and Lake Michigan water). Then, she cross-inoculated each water sample onto each type of medium. Using these experiments, we attempted to ask: what organisms in treated wastewater persist when released to Lake Michigan? What Lake Michigan organisms can survive when exposed to untreated sewage? And so on.

Influent medium plate inoculated with Lake Michigan water.
Fluorescently stained wastewater influent cells.

(left: Influent medium plate inoculated with Lake Michigan water, right: fluorescently stained wastewater influent cells)

Lauren also observed these organisms fluorescently stained under a microscope. The water samples were very different from each other, both in abundance and morphology of cells. She was a fan of the chain-style microbes in sewage (aren’t we all?).

Lauren successfully grew microbes from each water source on each type of medium. We hope to maintain pure cultures from plate isolates, and also investigate DNA she obtained from plate scrapings. Lauren enthusiastically powered through hours of pouring, spreading, pipetting, streaking, and more streaking – and established the foundation of a research project we can continue to learn from. All while taking meticulous notes, preparing an awesome poster, and enjoying her new chapter as a college student in Milwaukee!

Lauren is a dedicated student and fun labmate, and it was a pleasure being her mentor. She will be great in the nursing program at UWM. I hope we have more summer undergraduate researchers in the future!

(Lauren (right) with me, presenting her research at the UR@UWM poster session.)

Thanks to UR@UWM ( for organizing this awesome program, MMSD ( for the influent and effluent samples, and the Global Water Center ( for use of the confocal microscope.

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