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April 26, 2011

Department: Chemistry
Professor: Dr. Paul Richardson

When most people think of bacteria and viruses, they think of what they can do to eradicate them from the environment.  However, Dr. Paul Richardson and Coastal students are currently involved in three different research projects studying bacteriophages, which are viruses that infect bacteria.  This research is giving a broader understanding for the biochemical basis for bacteriophages to help both humans and the environment.

The first project is an attempt to find viruses that will clean up bacterial infections on the skin.  The collection and identification of these natural bacteriophages can be used to fight common bacterial infections that have developed antibiotic resistance. Samples are collected from human volunteers (from the nose and behind the ear) and tested to see if they contain viruses that can destroy E. coli and staphylococcus aureus.  This research will help within the medical field by finding alternatives to oral medications currently available like antibiotics that bacteria have developed resistance against.  These viruses can evolve with the bacteria, so resistance against these viruses is very difficult.

The second focus is the collecting and identifying of bacteriophages in Horry County.  These local viral strains must be genetically identified and cataloged.  By creating this library of strains from dirt and soil samples, it could be possible to find bacteriophages that could control bacterial blooms during the rainy season and do some virus farming for this specific geographical region.

The final project is to understand how UV light destroys bacteriophages and if some local environmental conditions protect viruses from being destroyed. Specifically the laboratory looks at what effect these environmental factors might have on protein expression for the virus.  To do this, water and soil samples are taken locally and the virus is studied to determine how the environment enables its survival.  As UV is one of the largest killers of viruses, it serves as a good model to understanding how long a virus can survive outside of a human.