Colton Pugh was recruited to Carroll for football and spent his freshman year on the JV team. Although it was a great experience, he realized he needed to reorganize his priorities. Athletics were “too time-consuming. I would rather prepare for my future,” he said.
A strong student in biology and math, Colton considered becoming a biomedical engineer before realizing “patient interaction sounded fun.” He plans to earn a degree in physician assistant studies and specialize in neonatal/pediatrics.
Dr. Nadia Dominguez was an assistant professor of biology who found Colton to be a promising student. She said, “Colton is polite, modest and talented. Students like him make doing what we do worthwhile.”
When Dominguez asked if he was interested in conducting research together, Colton embraced the opportunity. In summer 2011, they were one of 10 faculty-student teams selected for the Pioneer Scholars program. They worked at a graduate laboratory of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the company of researchers at all levels. Colton also was able to collaborate with undergraduates from across the United States, Puerto Rico and China, and attend presentations from other microbiology labs at Madison.
The team tackled two projects examining the microbe Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes the disease gonorrhea. This organism has a high mutation rate so it rarely maintains a constant state. Removing the variable would be helpful for future experiments, especially to determine the effectiveness of Neisseria gonorrhoeae’s ability to infect a host. Dominguez and Colton were unable to “lock” the microbe, but they did create a construct with a gene for either of the variables.
Another aspect of Neisseria gonorrhoeae is its ability to rapidly obtain antibiotic resistance. The second project was an attempt to kill the bacterium without using antibiotics. Colton and his mentor targeted seven proteins that were manipulated into overproduction. “Basically we were trying to get Neisseria gonorrhoeae to commit suicide,” Colton explained. Two tests indicated Neisseria gonorrhoeae was possibly dying. The findings were preliminary, but encouraging.
“Being in a real research lab at UW-Madison was amazing,” Colton said. “My experience this past summer was invaluable considering the knowledge I gained, the amazing people I met and worked with, and the educational connections that I made.”