An aspiring dental school student, senior biology major Bilyana Petkova spent a majority of this past spring and summer researching the formation of dental plaque at a microscopic level for her honors thesis.
Her success in research led her to participate in the West Michigan Regional Undergraduate Science Research Conference held Nov. 5 at the Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Petkova is the first Hillsdale College student to present research done through through the college at the conference.
“I want to be a dentist, so I wanted to select a project that would be relevant to dentistry,” Petkova said. “As a biology major who focuses more on microbiology and molecular biology, this project combined my interest in both microbiology and in dentistry.”
Through her research, Petkova said she hopes to prevent or reduce the amount of dental plaque formation. Her understanding of how plaque forms could potentially lead to the discovery of how to prevent its formation, or a new additive to toothpaste that could fight against the formation of plaque.
Petkova began research during the spring 2016, using funding she’d received as a recipient of the LAUREATES scholarship. She finished her experimental research on June 3 and then continued the analyzation of the data she collected.
In collaboration with the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, the lab of Frank Scannapieco, professor of oral biology, provided Petkova with purified AbpA protein, a protein produced by Streptococcus gordonii, for her research.
This saved Petkova about three weeks of time. In the end, the data revealed how the bacteria Streptococcus gordonii colonizes in tooth enamel and initiates the formation of plaque, Frank Steiner, professor of biology, said.
Steiner was on sabbatical last spring, but still taught Petkova phage display, an advanced experimental technique, allowing her to produce more accurate results in a faster amount of time, Petkova said.
“She probably did as much work in six weeks as probably two students could have done,” Steiner said. “She just really took off with the technique and I couldn’t have been more pleased with her work effort and results.”
Petkova said the opportunity to present her research helped her prepare for Hillsdale’s poster presentation this spring.
“I got really good comments and questions on my poster, as well as very constructive input,” Petkova said. “I was able to learn how to improve my future research and how to better prepare for questions in regards to my research. Overall, it was a very good experience to have a practice run and go outside Hillsdale to present, in preparation for the spring Hillsdale College poster fair.”
Petkova’s research and collaboration with the University at Buffalo started with Jordan Rucinski ’15, now a second-year dental student at the University of Louisville, who established the relationship between University and Buffalo and Hillsdale College. Rucinski initially sought out Scannapieco’s guidance on her own senior honors research thesis after reading some of his published work on similar oral research.
“Research regarding oral bacteria is very significant in dentistry, as the bacteria that inhabit the oral cavity are the etiology of many oral diseases, and oral health has direct influences upon systemic health,” Rucinski said in an email. “With its potential to contribute to advancements in the field of dental research, I hope students continue to develop this particular project in years to come.”