University of Georgia graduate student Ms. Rahat Wadhwa Desai was awarded the 2015 Marie W. Taubeneck Award from the Teratology Society at their fifty-fifth annual meeting in Montreal, Canada.
The Taubeneck award is presented to a student or postdoctoral fellow in recognition of scholarship in teratology and service to the Teratology Society, one of the world’s leading interdisciplinary scientific organizations focused on birth defects research, education and prevention.
To be considered, nominations are invited from mentors, and student members also vote for their choice during the annual meeting. Final decision is made by the Society’s Student Affairs Committee based on the candidate’s quality of research, service to the Teratology Society, and, attendance and involvement at the Society’s annual meetings.
Ms. Desai is a fourth-year doctoral student and graduate teaching assistant in the Interdisciplinary Toxicology Program and College of Public Health’s department of environmental health science. Her research focuses on developing methods to predict which pathogens are likely to affect pregnancy and newborn health, as well as generating therapies that may help prevent the adverse effects of infections during pregnancy.
“My overall objective is to understand pregnancy-related cases of listeriosis. Listeriosis is caused by a food borne bacterium, Listeria monocytogene,” said Ms. Desai. “These bacteria primarily affect the elderly, the immune-compromised and pregnant women. Pregnancy increases susceptibility to listeriosis, wherein the mother generally experiences mild flu-like symptoms but the consequences for the fetus can be severe, resulting in serious disease or death.”
Her current project compares the whole genome sequences of Listeria monocytogenes isolates known to cause stillbirths to isolates that have not caused stillbirths. Desai’s faculty mentor for this project is Mary Alice Smith, professor of environmental health science at UGA and Teratology Society past-president.
“By doing this comparison, we hope to identify bacterial virulence factors that may be associated with adverse effects during pregnancy,” said Ms. Desai. “In addition, we are also trying to investigate whether probiotic bacteria can reduce the invasion of pathogenic bacteria using in vitro techniques.”