PhD candidate Olivia Paxie at the graduation of her Bachelor of Science with Honors.
A sick grandfather, a love of science and a surprising discovery all played a part in PhD candidate Olivia Paxie’s journey from first-year health sciences to doctoral research in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.
Raised in Ōtaki on the Kāpiti coast, Miss Paxie “has loved science” her whole life and decided to come to the University of Otago to study because the first-year health sciences course was a “broad starting point”.
“I gravitated towards this area of study because, when I was a teenager, my grandad got very sick with an antimicrobial resistance infection,” Paxie says.
“The experience was very challenging to witness and made me realize what a huge problem AMR [Antimicrobial Resistance] is because, once the last line of antibiotics has been used, there is little a person can do to support people.
“Thankfully, my grandad survived against all odds, but the experience has stuck with me and ever since I’ve found the AMR crisis to be one of the most important issues.”
AMR occurs when bacteria changes over time and no longer responds to medicines that might have initially worked in treating the infection which increases the risk of the disease spreading, severe illness, and death.
Paxie is glad to have found her passion but explains her journey towards this area of research was not as straight forward as it might appear.
“I started first-year health science thinking that medical pathology was the path I needed to take before going into research, though I soon realized that this wasn’t a necessity and that I was far more interested in understanding science behind than I was in applying it,” Paxie says.
“That revelation not only excited me but empowered me to take a different direction and explore all the new and exciting research coming out of the field of microbiology.
“My summer studentship in the Department, under the guidance of Dr Rachel Darnell and Professor Greg Cook, also solidified this passion for research that I had discovered.”
She has now begun her PhD in Professor Cook’s laboratory and is conducting research on AMR, looking at the bacteria Enterococcus faecalis; a common hospital-acquired pathogen.
E. faecalis has a high degree of stress tolerance and innate resistance and so she hopes to understand the mechanisms that underpin its’ ability to deal with oxygen stress because this bacterium can survive in both oxygen-low and oxygen-rich environments.
“I am looking into the genes responsible for this as I hope to understand the fundamental aerobic metabolism of E. faecalis to potentially find new or adapted means to treat these infections,” Paxie says.
“I am both excited to find my passion and excited to be beginning my PhD, who knows what I’ll learn in the next few years!”
Kōrero by the School of Biomedical Sciences Communications Adviser, Kelsey Schutte.