November 14, 2008
November 14, 2008
Photo by Mark Ferguson
By Brette Ehalt
When asked what the ultimate goal of her research is, Monique Haakensen jokingly exclaimed, "To save the world’s beer from bacterial contamination!"
But this is exactly what the pathology and laboratory medicine PhD student hopes to do.
"Beer-spoiling bacteria," says Haakensen,"can cause large financial losses to breweries around the world, but very little is known about how these bacteria are capable of growing in beer."
She explains that even though hops, a plant-based ingredient, gives beer its flavor and, more importantly, acts as an antibiotic, some bacteria still manages to proliferate. Haakensen’s goal is to use genetic approaches—DNA sequencing, gene discovery, and whole genome analyses—to figure out just how these bacteria are capable of growing in beer.
So far, she has discovered at least three new methods of detecting beer-spoilage bacteria using polymerase chain reaction, a method of directed DNA amplification; two new genes possibly involved in beer-spoilage; and, thanks to her brothers, three new groups of bacteria that are capable of spoiling beer.
"Back in 2006, my three brothers made homemade beer. But the beer turned out so disgusting and contaminated that I decided to bring some to the lab. I grew the contaminating bacteria from the beer, and sequenced some of their DNA. I found three types of bacteria that have never been found in beer before, and identified a specific beer-spoilage or antimicrobial resistance gene in each type."
These findings were published in The Canadian Journal of Microbiology this past April.
To date, Haakensen has presented over a dozen posters at scientific conferences across Canada. This past summer, her research took her a long way from her hometown of Prince Albert—she flew to Hawaii to present at the World Brewing Congress. Haakensen has also won scholarships from Cargill Malt, Coors Brewing Company and Miller Brewing, all via the American Society of Brewing Chemists, as well as funding from the College of Medicine.
Coming out of high school, she never considered research as a career. But, in the summer following her third year as an undergraduate, she was introduced to the field of brewing microbiology and to the laboratory of Barry Ziola, a professor in pathology. She enjoyed the experience so much she decided to enter the master’s program, which was later converted to a PhD program.
"Looking back, I can see that staying at the U of S has been a great choice as it has allowed me to partake in so many interdisciplinary collaborations," notes Haakensen, who is currently working under Ziola’s supervison and with the bioinformatics department to sequence the first genome of a beer-spoilage bacterium.
Brette Ehalt writes profiles of grad students for the College of Graduate Studies and Research.