Posted: August 5, 2018

After two fruitful months of independent research at Penn State Department of Food Science through USDA-funded REEU project "Bugs in my food", Hephzibah Nwanosike and Marysabel Mendez Acevedo shared some of their impressions and experiences.

I am Hephzibah Nwanosike, an undergraduate student at Juniata College, Huntingdon Pennsylvania and I am a biochemistry major. I am interested in research and making new discoveries that would help the public health, hence I joined a microbiology lab back in Juniata College.

I was curious to learn more about microbiology research and heard about a REEU research position at Penn State, so I applied for it. My project at Penn State University was focused on testing the effectiveness of cocoa roasting at different temperatures inactivate Salmonella. During my project I worked with my mentor, Dr. Kovac on understanding the importance of food safety and food safety practices used in food industry.

This summer, I learned that Salmonellais a pathogen that is known to survive for a long time on low-moisture foods such as cocoa and this has proven to be a major problem for food industries, including cocoa and chocolate industry. In my research, I performed roasting of cocoa inoculated with Salmonella, at different temperatures and times to determine the effect of roasting on reduction of Salmonella. While testing for this, I learned and practiced many of the microbiology techniques that I had never been exposed to as an undergraduate. I also practiced writing official experimental reports and analyzing my data. I learned how to take charge of my research by making plans on when to start an experiment and how to set my own deadlines and meet them. This USDA REEU program helped me learn about the different areas that are associated with food science and the importance of collaborating with scientists from different fields of natural science to ensure food safety.

My name is Marysabel Mendez Acevedo. I recently graduated from the University of Puerto Rico Aguadilla Campus in a Biology program with a concentration in Biomedics. Despite my background, in my freshman years I have developed curiosity and interest in the food industry especially in area that focuses in food safety and pathogen control. Due to this, I pursued a research involving characterization and identification of Staphylococcus aureusin public areas.

My desire to participate in the Penn State USDA REEU internship at the Department of Food Sciences was because of my interest in pursuing a Master's Degree in Food Science and Technology, especially in the area of microbiology. I wanted to understand, in greater depth, how it is like to study different ways of preventing pathogens from contaminating foods by using microbiological and chemical techniques. In addition, I wanted to expand my knowledge and capacity to work in a new environment.

The project that was assigned to me by Dr. Kovac was to characterize a new species of Bacillus cereusgroup by using diverse biochemical and molecular methods. This will help us achieve accurate taxonomic identification and prediction of pathogenic potential. I learned that this new stpecies can grow in a matter of 16 hours, it has the capacity of being highly motile, it cannot hydrolyze blood, casein, and starch. It is gram positive, rod-like, able to grow at temperatures between 15-43 degrees Celsius and it cannot ferment oxidase.

Through this research experience I challenged myself in terms of taking charge of a research on my own. I saw in me the potential to continue graduate studies, and most importantly, I found in me confidence in my abilities as a scientist. I am now returning to Puerto Rico to continue my education in a Master's program in Food Science and hope to come back to Penn State.