Assessing Antibiotic Resistance to Understand How Wild and Captive Lemurs Stay Healthy

Sally Bornbusch

Sally Bornbusch, a Ph.D. student in Evolutionary Anthropology, spent last summer learning how to assess antibiotic resistance in bacterial microbiomes of non-human primates such as lemurs. This experience will inform her dissertation on the relationship between primate gut microbiomes and host health.

Mentored by Christine Drea, Bornbusch was among 18 Duke University students who received Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants (GSTEG) in 2017-18 from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies for training beyond their core disciplines. She shared an update:

Sally Bornbusch and a lemurDuring the summer of 2017 I worked with the Genomics & Microbiology Research Lab at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to assess antibiotic resistance in non-human primate microbiomes. Specifically, I learned laboratory skills (e.g. qPCR) necessary to assess the presence of 86 known antibiotic resistance genes in the gut and armpit microbiomes of multiple lemur species.

I was also able to spend a portion of the summer collecting lemur microbiome samples both from lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center and, with the help of collaborators, from wild lemurs in Madagascar. With the aid of researchers traveling to remote areas of Madagascar, the GSTEG enabled me to send along supplies to collect unique samples from wild lemurs. And, with my newly acquired analysis skills, I will be able to characterize antibiotic resistance in these invaluable samples, a novel research project that greatly enhances my dissertation research.

By learning the skills to assess antibiotic resistance in the lemurs’ commensal microbial assemblages, I will be able to comprehensively evaluate the impact of antibiotic exposure on the health and ecology of captive and wild lemurs. Because lemurs are considered one of the most endangered groups of animals on the planet, understanding how antibiotics and the growing ‘resistance crisis’ influence lemur health is critical to creating successful conservation and captive care programs. Overall, this experience broadened my skillset in microbial analyses, advanced multiple parts of my research, and furthered our understanding of the factors that influence lemur health.


This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages doctoral and master’s students to step away from their core research and training to acquire skills, knowledge, or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

Faculty Receive Bass Connections Awards to Develop Courses


Bass Connections has awarded four course development funds to groups of Duke faculty members whose pedagogical ideas will expand interdisciplinary curricular options for undergraduates as well as graduate and professional students.

This Spring an RFP invited Duke faculty, departments or schools to organize new courses or modify existing ones that align with one or more of the Bass Connections themes and are multidisciplinary, open to students at different levels and/or ask questions of societal importance. Such courses will augment theme leaders’ efforts to enrich the curricular pathways available to undergraduate and graduate students.

Managing Networks     

Submitted by Lisa Keister with Susan Alberts, Christopher Bail, Jonathon Cummings, James Moody, Martin Ruef

  • Faculty affiliations: Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (Biology, Evolutionary Anthropology, Sociology, Markets and Management Certificate Program); Fuqua School of Business; Nicholas School of the Environment (Marine Science and Conservation); Center for Population Health & Aging; Duke Institute for Brain Sciences; Duke Network Analysis Center; Duke Population Research Institute
  • Bass Connections theme: Information, Society & Culture

Networks are pervasive in the social, economic, political and natural worlds. Network data and methods – and concurrently our ability to conceptualize and analyze networks – have expanded dramatically in recent years, and Duke is a central location in which this research is being conducted. This course is about the role that networks play in organizations. It will involve multiple faculty from across schools, invite outside experts to provide guest lectures and include project-based assignments. Graduate students and post-docs from various disciplines will participate as assistants and project leaders.

Engineering and Anthropology of Biomedical Engineering (BME) Design in Uganda

Submitted by William Reichert and Kearsley Stewart

Dr. Reichert established the Duke-Makerere University in Kampala (MUK) BME Partnership in coordination with Duke BME, Duke Global Health Institute, Pratt School of Engineering, the Provost’s Office and the Duke Africa Initiative. The goal of this course is to integrate the design and anthropological elements of the Duke-MUK experience into a single course offered to both BME and global health undergraduate and graduate students. It will proceed pedagogically as a design class superimposed with the relevant anthropology of working directly with students in Uganda.

History of Global Health

Submitted by Nicole Barnes and Margaret Humphreys

  • Faculty affiliations: Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (History); School of Medicine; Duke Global Health Institute
  • Bass Connections theme: Global Health

The history of global health contains valuable perspectives for thinking through current health challenges. The course begins with the development of ancient medicine in Europe and China, and continues into the rise of biomedicine in the 19th and 20th centuries. It addresses particular diseases as case studies through which to explore important themes in global health history, and traces global circulations of people and commodities to show how international agencies, charities and governing bodies have spread both disease and the means to fight it.

Integrating Environmental Science and Policy

Submitted by Lori Bennear and Patrick Halpin

  • Faculty affiliations: Nicholas School of the Environment (Environmental Economics and Policy, Marine Science and Conservation); Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (Economics); Sanford School of Public Policy; Energy Initiative; Science & Society
  • Bass Connections theme: Energy

Environmental challenges are inherently multidisciplinary, drawing upon principles from ecology, earth sciences, biochemistry, economics, political science and ethics. Employing in-depth case studies, this course will explore the complex interactions that characterize current environmental problems. Course objectives include: exposing students to interdisciplinary approaches to environmental science and policy; allowing students to develop analytic tools to address environmental issues; and fostering collaborative group-based analytic experiences consistent with real-world environmental problem solving.

Faculty recipients of these course development funds will be invited to share their experiences at a luncheon or dinner at the end of year.

Learn how to get involved with Bass Connections.