By Wendy Sarubbi | April 1, 2019 4:52 pm

A UCF undergraduate is “lighting up” bacteria to find better treatments for tuberculosis – a highly contagious respiratory disease that is one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide, earning a UCF Founder’s Day Honors award for her efforts.

The Founders’ Day Honors Convocation recognizes faculty, staff members and students for outstanding teaching, research, professional service and years of dedication to the university.

Krista Moore, a senior in the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, works with infectious disease researcher Dr. Kyle Rohde. For the past three years she has worked to develop a new screening tool to monitor a specific gene in Mycobacterium tuberculosis — the bacteria that causes tuberculosis,  that makes it resistant to antibiotics.

Using DNA from bioluminescent bacteria – bacteria that contain luciferase, the enzyme that makes jellyfish and fireflies glow – Moore ‘tags’ the tuberculosis gene that is expressed when tuberculosis is exposed to antibiotics. By monitoring when the bacteria light up in response to antibiotics or other stresses, scientists can more easily track when resistance genes are being activated.

Scientists say tuberculosis (TB) is becoming increasingly resistant to current antibiotics. Moore hopes this screening tool will help screen new antibiotics that can treat the disease more effectively, and with fewer side effects. The tool will also help screen natural compounds Dr. Rohde’s lab is researching for their antibiotic properties against TB.

“Though we don’t hear about it often in the U.S., TB continues to be the deadliest infectious disease in the world, more than HIV or any other diseases,” Moore explained.  “It is very difficult to treat, most times requiring a cocktail of four different antibiotics given for an entire year.”

“These drugs may not be readily available or affordable in developing countries. And so it’s hard for patients to continue treatment for an entire year to completely eradicate the bacteria, and that contributes to the rise of drug resistant strain of the TB bacteria that is spreading throughout the world.”

This spring, Moore will defend and publish her research study as an honors in the major thesis – a capstone project for undergraduate students. She has also presented her research at UCF’s Showcase of Undergraduate Research, a research symposium for undergraduate students.

 Dr. Rohde praised Moore’s motivation in seeking out research opportunities as an undergraduate and says her research will go a long way in fighting tuberculosis.

“Krista’s contribution to the lab will go beyond her time here with us. Not only will we use the tool in our lab, but I think other labs will as well after we publish our findings,” Dr. Rohde said.

“We have identified several compounds from natural products like fungi and marine life, that we know kill TB, but we don’t know exactly how,” Dr. Rohde said. “So we can use this tool to sift through all these random compounds that kill TB to zoom in on exactly how they target TB bacteria.”

When she is not in the classroom or in the lab, Moore volunteers at UCF and in the community.  She serves as assistant program director for the surgical internship program and is a Biomedical Sciences peer mentor. Moore is also the volunteer golf coach for the Seminole County Special Olympics.

After graduating this spring, Moore begins medical school in the fall and hopes to become a pediatrician. She is confident her research experience will help her be a better doctor.

“As a physician, it’s important to keep up with the research,” she said, “so I think having firsthand knowledge of how everything works will help me to better understand research studies as they emerge. And I also hope to continue to do some research on the medical school as well.”

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