Ups and Downs

Clair Henthorn readily admits – research has its ups and downs.

As she concludes her master’s degree program in the College of Veterinary Medicine, Henthorn is clearly leaving on an upward trajectory.

A long-time member of Dr. Chris Minion’s research team in the Department of Veterinary Microbiology and Preventive Medicine, Henthorn is the lead author on a new study, “Utilization of Macrophage Extracellular Trap Nucleotides by Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae,” the team hopes to publish soon.

Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae is the causative agent of enzootic pneumonia in swine and a leading disease in the swine industry worldwide. The disease causes affected pigs to cough and to fail to gain weight, making them less marketable but it also makes the pig more susceptible to secondary infections.

“We don’t fully understand how it (Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae) causes diseases,” said Henthorn, who graduated from Iowa State with a master’s degree this May. “It’s a challenging pathogen to study.”

But study it, Henthorn did. In the study, Minion’s research group induced the production of macrophage extracellular traps (METs), chromatin structures with the purpose of interacting with and eliminating the pathogens. The group then investigated how Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae interacted with the extracellular traps.

The team’s results strongly suggest that Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae could degrade extracellular traps formed in vivo during infection and incorporate host nucleotides in its own DNA.

“When we learned that our hypothesis proved to be true, I through to myself, ‘did that just happen? Let’s go do some more mycoplasma research,’” Henthorn said. “This was really encouraging to continue further research into this organism and its virulence mechanisms used to cause disease.”

Henthorn began working with Minion’s group as an undergraduate honor student. Soon afterwards, she was invited to join the team as an undergraduate research assistant. Once she finished her bachelor’s degree, she joined Minion’s team as a graduate student.

“I’ve had a lot of great opportunities in research, thanks to Dr. Minion and Dr. Sahin,” she said.

While all research has its ups and downs, Henthorn says she is constantly thinking on how to improve a study or what new avenues to explore.

“On weekends I have ideas and I can’t wait to put them into practice on Monday,” she says. “Sometimes I’m kept up at night, thinking about a research project.  Other days I wonder why I’m doing this?

“The world of microbiology can be organized chaos and I’m grateful for the privilege to study it.”