Hope Bias is a West Virginian with passions for microbiology, public health, and communicating data effectively to the public. She is an ORISE Fellow at FDA-CFSAN working with GenomeTrakr/CovidTrakr. We talked with Hope recently about her research. (Answers have been lightly edited.)
How did you get interested in microbiome research?
I have been interested in the ways microbes, humans, and their environments interact since I was a little kid watching an episode of PBS’s Nova that covered an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Since then, many interactions have peppered my personal life, from relatives developing sepsis from bacteria and fungi present in soil and on human skin, to the current Covid-19 pandemic, to a musical about Alexander Fleming and the dangers of antibiotic resistance. Even if I did not already have a passion for studying these microscopic organisms and our responses to them, how could I not be compelled by my experiences to take a closer look? There is something particularly compelling for me in humans making sense of these fellow travelers in their environments that they cannot see with the naked eye but bear witness to the effects of every day.
Briefly describe your project as if you were talking to your grandmother.
SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes CoVID-19. The FDA-CFSAN’s Wastewater Surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 Variants project was a large-scale effort uniting state public health agencies, universities, and the FDA. The project aimed to recover and sequence complete genetic material from SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater. These samples were collected near sites important to the United States food supply. These sequences have been analyzed and made public. Metadata about these samples tells us more information about where and how this genetic material was collected and sequenced. The FDA-CFSAN’s Wastewater Surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 Variants effort was one of the first of its kind and helped labs around the country develop their sequencing capacity. It also showed scientists that we could isolate genetic material from viruses and other microbes found in wastewater. That will be very important for disease surveillance in the future.
How does your work contribute to researchers’ understanding of the microbiome?
Sequencing whole viral genomes from wastewater is still a relatively new field. FDA-CFSAN’s Wastewater Surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 Variants project helped get technology and techniques into the hands of state labs and united them behind certain metadata standards and templates. The effort not only shows what is possible but paves the way for tomorrow’s pathogen surveillance efforts.
What song do you currently have on repeat?
I sing a lot of folk music. Often and lately, “Angel from Montgomery,” sung by Bonnie Rait and written by John Prine, who we lost to COVID-19, has been keeping me company.https://microbiomedata.org/ambassadors/
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