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Capacity for Transition

Pūhoro Student Internships: In Their Own Words

The Pūhoro STEM Academy is building skills and passion in the future scientists of New Zealand, from high school to the workplace. Read the story of the first two students to pilot the Pūhoro internship programme, which is now sponsored by Our Land and Water.

Two Pūhoro STEM Academy students, Ella Cameron-Smith (Ngāti Raukawa, Ngai Te Rangi) and Meschka Seifritz (Ngāti Kauwhata), were first to pilot the Pūhoro internship programme now sponsored by Our Land and Water. This is their description of their week with AgResearch scientist Dr Adrian Cookson.

Dr Adrian Cookson is a microbiologist with a research focus on E. coli, a bacterium commonly found in faeces, whether it be cattle, sheep, deer, or human. According to Dr Cookson, E. coli is commonly associated with faecal material, so it gets a bad reputation as a water contaminant. On the other hand, it is useful as a marker of faecal contamination because it is fairly easy to grow.

Water quality, recreational activity and environmental concerns associated with increased farming activities and urban wastewater have raised the profile of water quality over the past few years. Dr Cookson’s research uses DNA sequencing methods to look at the E. coli populations from water in more detail to understand where they may have come from – a concept called faecal source tracking.

Just to make using E. coli as a marker of faecal contamination a little more complicated, some E. coli are well-suited to survive and grow in the environment. Unfortunately current methods can’t distinguish the E. coli from faecal material from environmental E. coli – this is where, through his research, Dr Cookson hopes to develop new tests for more accurate water quality measurements.

As Pūhoro students we participated in a paid internship that involved a ‘condensed’ (two year to one week) E. coli research project. The project was funded by the Our Land and Water National Science Challenge.

By measuring and investigating the number and nature of E. coli in the waterways the quality of our water can be improved, and in turn, we will see improvements in our land.

The internship included taking water, biofilm and duck faecal samples that were concentrated in the lab via filters and special trays with media. The trays enabled us to identify and count the E. coli. The filters enabled the interns to take individual E. coli colonies and relocate them onto fresh agar to show more of the E. coli.

The E. coli were then mashed up in boiled water to get the E. coli DNA template to generate a profile associated with each individual E.coli. Through the gel process, the E. coli profiles were able to be exhibited to show the differences and similarities between the different E. coli colonies.

The experience was exceptional. The week resulted in 23 naturalised E.coli identified; 241 bacteria genome sequenced; 754 bacteria isolated and 1176663284 DNA base pairs sequenced.

The week of hands on experience both outside in the river and inside the lab helped us to develop a better understanding of E.coli in the waterways and the importance of protecting their awa ensuring that we improve our understanding of E.coli so that in the future we may still have rivers to swim in.

We left this internship enthused and inspired by the mahi and with our science pathways broadened. Many thanks to Dr Cookson for hosting the internship.

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Author

Ella Cameron-Smith and Meschka Seifritz

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