UMFK student participates in impactful research

7 months ago

FORT KENT, Maine – When biology student Derry Bessette began her college career at the University of Maine at Fort Kent, she had no idea that someday she would have the opportunity to participate in a research project beyond her university’s campus that would ultimately benefit the healthcare industry.

In the summer of 2022, Derry was accepted into the INBRE (Idea Network of Biological Research Excellence) Fellowship program, run by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) and Mount Desert Island Biological Lab. There, she spent 10 weeks under the guidance of Colleen O’Loughlin, Ph.D. working in the O’Loughlin Lab at Bates College on an independent project where she focused on studying biofilm formation mechanisms in staphylococcus epidermidis (staph epi) bacteria. 

Staph epi is the leading cause of infections patients get while in the hospital and can create many challenges and complications for them. 

“When a pathogenic strain of bacteria forms a biofilm on humans, many of them get antibiotic resistant infections that cannot be treated with current antibiotics. Typically, they are bloodstream infections and very severe, sometimes leading to sepsis and death,” said Derry.

During her ten weeks at the O’Loughlin Lab, Derry learned and performed various lab techniques including Polymerase chain reactions, RNA extraction, DNA extraction, Quantitative Real Time PCR, and numerous Congo Red agar experiments. All of these experiments led to a final project encapsulating the hypervariability of biofilm formation mechanisms in staph epi.

Derry’s work helped to advance the research in determining a way to classify strains of staphylococcus species based on their behavior. Once this classification is determined, treatments and medications that target the biofilms can be produced. This is all done in an effort to find targeted treatments for antibiotic resistant infections. 

When asked to share her thoughts on her experience, Derry said, “I discovered that I enjoyed lab research very much. This experience shifted my sights to a pathway that leads to research rather than clinical work.”

At the end of last summer, Derry presented her work at the Mount Desert Island Biological Lab symposium and again virtually in December 2022 at the NIH’s National Symposium for Undergraduate Researchers.

This past May, Derry graduated magna cum laude from UMFK with a bachelor of science degree in biology. She received the biology award for academic excellence and expected future contributions in the area of biology. Ten days after graduating, Derry re-enrolled at UMFK into the accelerated nursing program. She plans to pursue a career path in nursing research.

Like Derry, many students at UMFK benefit from the network of professionals that faculty are connected to. Fellowships, internships, preceptorships, and unique summer employment opportunities often lead to employment offers after graduation. To learn more about opportunities at UMFK, visit