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Assessing Antibiotic Resistance to Understand How Wild and Captive Lemurs Stay Healthy

Sally Bornbusch, a Ph.D. student in Evolutionary Anthropology, spent last summer learning how to assess antibiotic resistance in bacterial microbiomes of non-human primates such as lemurs. This experience will inform her dissertation on the relationship between primate gut microbiomes and host health.

Mentored by Christine Drea, Bornbusch was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. She shared an update:

A woman stands next to an animal

During the summer of 2017 I worked with the Genomics & Microbiology Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to assess antibiotic resistance in non-human primate microbiomes. Specifically, I learned laboratory skills (e.g. qPCR) necessary to assess the presence of 86 known antibiotic resistance genes in the gut and armpit microbiomes of multiple lemur species.

I was also able to spend a portion of the summer collecting lemur microbiome samples both from lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center and, with the help of collaborators, from wild lemurs in Madagascar. With the aid of researchers traveling to remote areas of Madagascar, the GSTEG enabled me to send along supplies to collect unique samples from wild lemurs. And, with my newly acquired analysis skills, I will be able to characterize antibiotic resistance in these invaluable samples, a novel research project that greatly enhances my dissertation research.

By learning the skills to assess antibiotic resistance in the lemurs’ commensal microbial assemblages, I will be able to comprehensively evaluate the impact of antibiotic exposure on the health and ecology of captive and wild lemurs. Because lemurs are considered one of the most endangered groups of animals on the planet, understanding how antibiotics and the growing ‘resistance crisis’ influence lemur health is critical to creating successful conservation and captive care programs. Overall, this experience broadened my skillset in microbial analyses, advanced multiple parts of my research, and furthered our understanding of the factors that influence lemur health.


This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.