After the recent media attention Naegleria fowleri, better known as “the brain eating amoeba” has become a serious concern for people around the world. N. fowleri is an amoeba that is found in soil and waterways (natural and man made) around the globe. The amoeba enters the body through the nasal cavity when water is forced into the nose and then moves into the brain. When the amoeba does not find bacteria to feed on it begins eating the brain. N. fowleri are thermophilic amoeba, which means they thrive in warmer waters. Since the amoeba prefer warmer waters previous scientists have investigated the presence of N. fowleri in thermally polluted lakes. In our project we are going to investigate local lakes (2 thermally polluted, 2 not) for the presence of N. fowleri. The two thermally polluted lakes we will test are Lake Keowee and Lake Julian. The two non-thermally polluted lakes we will test will be Lake Jocassee and Fawn Lake. Right now we are working on perfecting PCR and gel electrophoresis (we will test for the presence of N. fowleri DNA) methods before we take our samples from the lakes. We are also waiting on a positive control, already identified N. Fowleri DNA, for our experiment which has proven to be a lot harder and more expensive than we thought. We are also still evaluating the risks of our projects. We believe we have eliminated all of them by not culturing the N. fowleri and just work with it’s DNA. We are all excited and also nervous to see if N. fowleri will be found in our local lakes!
Over the past couple weeks we have all been working to narrowed down our research topics and ideas into a feasible project. Hannah, Bryce and I have decided to work with the deadly brain eating amoeba, Naegleria fowleri. This summer there was a reported case of this amoeba infecting someone at the Whitewater Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, proving this amoeba lives in North Carolina. Although It is extremely rare for this amoeba to infect humans (under forty cases in the US over the past ten years) it is very fatal and causes death between four and seven days after symptoms appear. The presence of this amoeba in Western North Carolina has not been previously reported. The purpose of our project is to determine whether or not this amoeba is living in our local waters. We will be doing this two different ways, one of which is the screening for antibodies to the genus Naegleria in beaver blood. This will be done by adding extracted blood from locally trapped beavers on the French Broad to a culture of the amoeba N. lovaniensis, which is closely related to N. fowleri. If the amoeba is lysed (broken apart) when the blood is added then we can conclude that there are antibodies to the amoeba present. Beaver blood will be donated to the program and no beavers will be harmed for the purpose of this project.