Zoë Eby, Class of 2023

About Me: I’m currently a senior at PHS, and I’ve been in the research program for the past three years. My primary interests are in microbiology and medicine, and during my time in the program I have been working on projects involving bacteriophage therapy and also the highly lethal insect pathogen Photorabdhus luminescens. I’ve also been a part of the team that won the SAMSUNG Solve for Tomorrow Challenge in 2022 for a project on reducing food waste and creating sustainable cosmetic products using black soldier fly larvae. I’m currently managing PHS research’s Sustainable Soap business, Sol Feliz, with Debolina Sen. In the future, I plan to pursue a degree in microbiology. In my free time, I enjoy playing piano, violin, rock climbing, and baking.

Viruses to the Rescue: Phage Therapy as a Potential Alternative to Antibiotic Treatment

Abstract: Bacteriophages are naturally occuring bactericidal viruses whose high host-specificity allows them to target specific bacteria. As populations of antibiotic-resistant bacteria grow, phage therapy is a promising alternative to antibiotics that may also have fewer negative consequences for the overall microbiome. Manduca sexta will be used to test the efficacy of bacteriophage, antibiotic, and combination treatment of systemic E. coli infections within a living system. It is hypothesized that bacteriophage therapy will reduce deaths as a result of E. coli infection in the chosen model for this experiment, the tobacco hornworm (Manduca sexta). Hornworms treated with bacteriophage will resist infection as effectively as antibiotic treatment, bacteriophage therapy will enhance the effectiveness of low-dose antibiotics, and bacteriophage therapy will have fewer negative consequences for overall hornworm health. Qualitative data collected will determine the most effective treatment, and immune responses of the hornworms will be observed through hemocyte (immune cell) abundance and genetic analysis of the insects’ microbiome before, during, and after infection. Evaluating the efficacy, benefits, and potential drawbacks of bacteriophage therapy is essential because it is a proposed alternative treatment option for bacterial infection in humans.

Death from Below: Potential Use of a Soil Bacterium to Produce a Human-Safe Biological Pesticide

Abstract: The overuse of pesticides is a probable factor in declining insect populations around the world, particularly the class of chemicals known as neonicotinoids. It is therefore necessary to identify and develop new pesticides that are fast-acting and biodegradable, because foodstocks need to be protected without causing further damage to the environment. Photorhabdus luminescens, a biosafety level 1 symbiotic bacterium (Order Enterobacterales) that lives within the gut of the nematode Heterorhabditis bacteriophora, may present a possible solution. While H. bacteriophora is commonly utilized as an insecticidal control agent for soil-based insects such as beetle grubs and cutworms, P. luminescens raised outside of its nematode host can still effectively kill aboveground caterpillars with 100% lethality due to production of the highly toxic makes caterpillars floppy (mcf) protein that does not appear to cause harm to vertebrates. Potential agents that might prevent P. luminescens infection, such as inoculation with Eschericia coli, viruses that attack species in the Order Enterobacterales, or elevated temperatures were all shown to be ineffective against P. luminescens lethality. Methods of entry, whether P. luminescens was injected into the hemolymph, gut, or pseudopod (foot) of larvae were shown to be equally effective. At present, this bacterium does not appear to penetrate the exoskeleton or infect through the mouth, suggesting that the bacteria are short-lived outside of the nutrient broth medium. While P. luminescens is promising as a potential new source of biodegradable pesticides, further research should be directed towards methods to concentrate, purify, and apply the mcf protein.

Samsung Solve for Tomorrow and Sustainable Soaps

In addition to the original soaps made with Black soldier fly oil, we have developed several other recipes of sustainable soaps using coconut oil and beeswax, other great alternatives to palm oil, whose harvesting is a major contributor to deforestation.

Batches of Sustainably made Eucalyptus, Beeswax violet, and Rose soap.

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