Welcome to a new series featuring Forsyth Institute Alumni! Learn more and apply to join the Forsyth Alumni Association.
The Forsyth Institute has been the training ground for thousands of researchers around the world. Education and Training programs are considered a strength and priority of the Institute, with both pre-doctoral and post-doctoral training opportunities available, as well as continuing education courses for clinicians.
The goal of Forsyth’s post-doctoral training program is to develop a diverse group of committed, highly trained, and competitive investigators from a pool of PhDs and professionals (DMD, DDS, MD). Scientists who seek a collaborative, multidisciplinary research experience and careers in oral health and related research fields thrive in the laboratory environment at Forsyth. Postdocs can find a diverse range of opportunities that meet their current goals, with both funded employment positions and the research training certificate program.
We sat down with Dr. Andrew Collins, a former post-doctoral fellow at The Forsyth Institute, to learn more about his experience at Forsyth and what he’s doing now.
Q1: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m originally from Washington state but came out to the University of Connecticut to get my PhD in microbiology, then found my way to Forsyth to become a postdoc in Floyd Dewhirst’s lab. Currently, I’m a Field Applications Scientist for Bio-Rad Laboratories. I live in Waltham, MA with my wife and 1-year-old boy.
Q2: When were you employed at Forsyth, and what kind of work did you do?
I was a postdoc in the Dewhirst lab from 2014 until 2019. I did lots of work developing ways to grow bacteria from the mouth that we knew were there from genetic studies, but that we had never been able to grow in the lab.
In our experiments, we had lots of cultures going on simultaneously, with multiple growth plates and tubes with liquid media. There was a lot of maintenance and checking the cultures to makes sure our target organisms were still there, the cultures were growing properly, and they hadn’t become contaminated.
The greatest contribution our lab made to the field was devising a fast, simple method to cultivate a new phylum of bacteria, called Saccharibacteria, from the oral cavity. The method has since been applied to other samples, like bacteria from the gut of the cicada. Before we had done this, it was thought that only many passages of media with the right selective pressure might get you an isolate from the Saccharibacteria.
Q4: What was your favorite memory during your time at Forsyth?
My favorite memory was trying out our method of Saccharibacteria cultivation for the first time. Our method was to use filtering to separate the very small Saccharibacteria from everything else. Other people in the lab had tried taking dental plaque, growing the bacteria in culture first, then using 0.45-micron filters to try and purify what they had. There was some success with these methods. I just tried to take it a step further and simplify things, taking dental plaque and filtering it through a smaller, 0.2-micron filter first before moving it into liquid culture. I came in the next morning to test the culture for the presence of Saccharibacteria and when it came back positive, I distinctly remember jumping around the freezer room in celebration.
Q5: What do you do for work now?
Currently I’m a Field Application Scientist for Bio-Rad, which means I travel around southern New England training scientists on how to use our real-time and droplet digital PCR instruments. My job is mostly making sure scientists get good data from their experiments!
Q6: How did your time at Forsyth prepare you for the next step in your career?
Being around a diverse group of researchers really helped me develop my own analysis of experimental design. I was exposed to so many different questions and there was such creativity in finding ways to get a scientifically sound answer that was measurable and reliable. It made me think much more precisely about what question I was asking, what I needed to measure, and how I could be confident in my data.