Brow wins international student paper competition

Chris Brow, OHSU graduate student

Portland, Ore. -- Christina Brow, graduate student in the Division of Environmental and Biomolecular Systems (EBS) at OHSU's Institute of Environmental Health, won the student paper competition for the International Symposium on Bioremediation and Sustainable Environmental Technologies.

The symposium is sponsored by Battelle and considered an international venue for bioremediation researchers and practitioners to present the outcomes and lessons learned from their work.

Brow won the award for her paper titled, "Groundwater Chemistry and Toluene Degradation Activity are Better Correlated with Sediment-Attached, as Opposed to Suspended Microbial Populations in a Model Aquifer." The research involved Brow's advisers, Rick Johnson, Ph.D., Holly Simon, Ph.D., plus Reid Johnson, EBS research staff, and Josue' R. Reyes, volunteer lab assistant.

"The work that Chris is doing is helping to re-shape our understanding of biological processes in the subsurface and will lead to better, more-efficient strategies for restoring groundwater quality," Johnson says.

In the paper, Brow describes using molecular methods to characterize the spatial distribution of organisms capable of toluene degradation across a contaminant plume in a model aquifer. Her results show significant differences in the distribution of sediment-attached, and suspended populations, with the sediment-attached populations better reflecting system chemistry and the extent of degradation.

"There is also some evidence to suggest that these differences may be related to the transport of organisms with the groundwater from upstream locations where chemical conditions favored their growth," Brow says.

The next phase of her research involves analysis of gene expression in sediment and water samples from the model aquifer to discover if microbial transport is responsible for differences between sediment-attached and suspended population distributions.

Brow received her undergraduate degree in Environmental Engineering from Syracuse University. After completing a Masters in Environmental Engineering from the University of Utah, she worked the next few years as a research associate at the University of California, San Diego. She is currently a doctoral candidate in the OHSU's Division of Environmental and Biomolecular Systems and preparing to defend her thesis in the spring of 2011.

Brow will present her research paper at the upcoming symposium on June 27-30, 2011 in Reno, Nevada. During the plenary session, she will receive a plaque and a $1500 cash award.