eNews June 2019

Meet the Researcher: Linda DeVeaux, New Mexico Tech

New Mexico Tech (NMT) Associate professor Linda DeVeaux joined the faculty of the Biology Department in 2017. Linda started at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, but transferred to the University of California at Berkeley where she graduated with a BS in genetics. In her PhD in microbiology dissertation work at the University of Virginia, she analyzed the transport of vitamin B12 across the E. coli membrane in the laboratory of the late Robert Kadner. After two post-doctoral appointments‒at the University of Illinois and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle‒Linda and her husband moved to Pocatello, ID, where she stepped away from research to raise her three children, teaching evenings at Idaho State University. In 2005, Linda returned to full-time academia as an assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Idaho State University. While at ISU, she created a radiation microbiology research group, which, in collaboration with the Idaho Accelerator Center, investigated the molecular mechanisms behind radiation resistance in extremophiles. Using the available linear accelerators, this group created the most radiation resistant microbe reported, at the time.

In 2012, Dr. DeVeaux and her husband left ISU for the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. The lack of access to linear accelerators compelled Linda to make a change in her research direction.  Drawing on her extensive background in E. coli genetics, together with a new PhD student‒Kelsey Murray‒and SD Mines faculty member Lisa Kunza, Linda started investigating the virulence potential of bacterial communities in contaminated surface waters in South Dakota. South Dakota has the highest incidence of STEC (Shiga toxigenic E. coli) infections in the country. Linda, Kelsey, and Lisa found that the genes encoding shiga toxin were ubiquitous in South Dakota rivers, along with several other virulence genes associated with E. coli O157:H7 and other enterohemorrhagic E. coli. Although not surprising, given that cattle, which harbor STEC in their gut microbiome, outnumber people 5:1 in South Dakota, these results were alarming. With support from the water districts in both eastern and western South Dakota, they continued to monitor the presence of these virulence genes over time, and determined that simple E. coli counts, the standard measure of fecal contamination, do not correlate with the pathogenicity potential of the community.

Since joining the faculty at NMT, Linda has focused on establishing connections between the genetic content of bacterial communities in surface water, particularly the Rio Grande, and those found in patients presenting with antibiotic-resistant infections in the clinic. She is particularly interested in the role that severe weather events have on the evolution of multi-drug resistant pathogens, focusing on the horizontal gene transfer events occurring in the environment. This is of particular concern in New Mexico during monsoon season, when bacterial communities from the surrounding areas are mixed with the river bacterial residents, creating the potential for an emerging pathogen. Two current graduate students, Angelica Cave and Kimberly McNair, have received NM WRRI grants to pursue these topics. Angie’s work focused on the survival of antibiotic-resistant organisms through water treatment at local municipalities, and Kimberly is following the spread of specific antibiotic-resistance genes throughout surface waters in New Mexico.