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Interview: ‘I feel like an explorer’

This is an interview with a PhD student of the Complex Systems & Metagenomics projects in a series of background articles. Keep following this website for the next interview in this series.

Interview with Wouter Lokhorst, PhD student of the project DiSSeMINATE – Drivers of Selection and Spread of Mobile Genetic Elements INvolved in Antimicrobial Resistance at Wageningen University & Research.

Goat farms may specifically host pneumonia-causing micro-organisms. Wouter Lokhorst identifies microbes on these farms to obtain a better insight into causative agents of pneumonia.

‘While pneumonia is a rather common illness, we still do not know which bacteria, fungi and viruses cause this infection exactly. Previous research has shown that people living close to goat farms have a higher risk of getting pneumonia. So, I am investigating if there are specific micro-organisms present on these farms that could cause pneumonia.

My colleagues and I are doing this by taking samples at goat farms. We sample faeces, milk, the air in the barn, and also throats, noses, skin, hair and blood of goats. I feel as if I am an explorer on these farms. In the lab, I identify each bacterium, fungus and virus based on their DNA. This results in a long list of micro-organisms present on the farms. At the same time my collaborators are creating a similar list of micro-organisms present in pneumonia patients. By cross-referencing these two lists, we hope to pinpoint pneumonia-causing pathogens.

I have currently visited fifteen farms and I aim to visit fifteen more. It is quite different from experiments in the lab, but I enjoy it a lot. Growing up, I lived in an area full of farms and I have always been interested in farm life. Working on them now is great fun. I also hope to contribute to the health of the animals. If the list reveals specific harmful micro-organisms on the farms, farmers could take targeted measures to keep their animals healthy’.

PhD project: DiSSeMINATE – Drivers of Selection and Spread of Mobile Genetic Elements INvolved in Antimicrobial Resistance.