October 15, 2020

Postdoc fellow wins 2020 Michigan Regional Postdoctoral Symposium 3MT competition

Grace Swanson, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, won first place in the 2020 Michigan Regional Postdoctoral Symposium 3MT (three-minute Research Talk) competition.

Dr. Swanson, who works in the lab of Stephen Krawetz, Ph.D., associate director of the C.S. Mott Center for Human Growth and Development, presented “The ejaculate microbiome can be assessed

Grace Swanson, Ph.D.

using human sperm RNA sequencing data” during the competition, held Oct. 7-9.

Sponsored by Wayne State University, Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and the Van Andel Institute, the competition was open to postdoctoral students across Michigan.

“Upon finding out that the Regional Postdoctoral Symposium would be held virtually, I wanted to present a topic that was relevant to the current situation with the pandemic,” Dr. Swanson said. “That made my choice of presentation simple, as the method of analysis I used can be applied to the human RNA sequencing data obtained from any tissue source. With my presentation, I wanted to provide an alternative method for the diagnosis of infections and to inspire the audience to think outside the box when addressing their own research projects.”

Dr. Swanson’s presentation involved a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics. The research sought to determine if human sperm RNA sequencing data could provide a sensitive method of detection of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses and archaea, compared to current methods of targeted sequencing or culturing.

She and her collaborators collected 85 semen samples, isolated the sperm RNA and subjected it to human RNA sequencing. Dr. Swanson discovered a sample with an abnormally high level of microbial sequences. After taking a closer look, the sample was found to contain a considerable amount of Streptococcus agalactiae bacteria. A leading cause of neonatal infection during pregnancy and post-delivery linked to significant mortality rates in premature births, the bacteria can also be life-threatening in adults, particularly the elderly.

The current method for testing the male reproductive tract microbiome relies on culturing samples and 16S ribosomal RNA sequencing. This, the study reported, can be limiting because the majority of pathogens cannot be cultured and alongside 16S rRNA sequencing requires multiple samples and test to be performed. The cost of RNA sequencing has dropped dramatically and continues to decrease, providing a more complete picture of the human biome.