Marian College: professor receives grant to study Wisconsin water, beach pollution

Fond du Lac, Wis. — A Marian College professor is the recipient of a $150,000 two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study pollution of Wisconsin bodies of water and beaches.

Biology Prof. Susan Bornstein-Forst, Ph.D., will use the grant for studies on fecal pollution of Wisconsin public waterways and recreational beaches, together with the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee Wisconsin Aquatic Technology and Environmental Research (WATER) Institute. Full-time Marian Biology students in 2006 and in 2007 will be eligible to receive student stipends for independent research projects that address the specific aims of the grant.

The Marian College–WATER Institute collaboration began with a pilot study funded by a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences seed grant in 2004. Investigations focused on the population dynamics of the organism whose presence indicates fecal pollution, the bacterium Escherichia coli (E. coli) found at Bradford Beach, on Lake Michigan in Milwaukee. During the 2004–05 academic year, Marian student Kimberly Vigness initiated studies on the survival and persistence of E. coli in beach sand under the joint mentorship of Bornstein-Forst and the WATER Institute’s Sandra McLellan. Vigness, Marian student Erika Jensen, former Marian student Lucas Beversdorf and other members of the lab team analyzed the E. coli burden in more than 480 sand samples taken from specific locations in three areas at the beach.

“We determined that much of the E. coli contamination of Lake Michigan came from bacterial populations that survived in the near shore sand and that level of fecal pollution increased after rainfall events,” reported McLellan and Bornstein-Forst in a WATER Technical paper.

Data from the 2004 Bradford Beach study was presented at the 64th Annual American Society for Microbiology (ASM) Regional Meeting in Madison and was also reported to the City of Milwaukee Health Department, the agency responsible for beach monitoring, and the Milwaukee County Department of Public Works, the agency responsible for physical maintenance of Bradford Beach. As a result of this project, Milwaukee County and other agencies interested in water quality invested more than $100,000 to regrade the beach before the summer of 2005, and then to groom the beach two to four times per week.

Sampling of the regraded beach was performed during the summer of 2005 by Vigness and other members of the Bornstein-Forst/McLellan labs, and will be reported by Vigness in her Fellowship presentation at the 106th General Meeting of the ASM in Orlando, Fla. in May 2006. A paper summarizing data from these studies has been submitted for publication to the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.

Bornstein-Forst also has submitted a United States Department of Agriculture grant, along with Dr. S. Patricia Stock of the University of Arizona, to fund international student research, collaboration, and exchange in the fields of biological control and entomopathogenic nematode studies. In December 2005, a Marian student working in Bornstein-Forst’s lab, Steven “Shawn” Peterson was awarded funding from a National Science Foundation Research Education for Undergraduate grant to work in Stock’s laboratory on a joint project. Shawn’s work focused on the characterization of a recent nematode isolate from Allenton, Wis. His data will be reported to the International Organization of Biological Control in France next June.

“I am extremely proud of the accomplishments of the members of my lab team,” says Bornstein-Forst. “The recognition of the importance of our work has impacted the scientific community and public policy, and is now funded by one of the world’s most respected granting agencies, NIH, at a time when government funding has been slashed. Our work underscores the Marian commitment to excellence in education and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that undergraduate students can compete in the global scientific arena.

“Networking is vital to new and continuing opportunities and opens the doors to collaborations and collegial exchange. My participation at meetings has been sponsored in part by Faculty Development grants. I owe a great deal of thanks to this committee for its continuing support and encouragement of lifelong learning experiences at the faculty level, which lead to new venues for undergraduate students.”

Marian College is a Catholic applied liberal arts college located in Fond du Lac, Wis. The college offers more than 50 undergraduate and graduate programs at its main campus, and a variety of adult accelerated-degree programs in facilities throughout Wisconsin. The size of the College permits a very favorable student–faculty ratio, one of the lowest among Wisconsin colleges. Marian’s academic divisions offer programs of study designed to meet a full range of pre-professional and professional academic needs. The primary divisions and programs include business, education, the arts, sciences, nursing and technology. Marian College is a community committed to learning, dedicated to service and social justice, and joined together by spiritual traditions.