Research Early and Often: A Biology Alum's Path to Discovery


In high school, Cheyenne Marque Weeks-Galindo (M.S. '15) co-authored a research paper for the Journal of Tropical Ecology. While that may sound like the start of a focused career in research, Cheyenne had other plans. Instead, she traveled and divided her time between studying chemistry, language, cultural studies, plant science, and working with tuberculosis patients in Panama. It was in Panama that Cheyenne met JMU professors of biology Dr. Steve Cresawn and Dr. Jim Herrick at an infectious diseases workshop and found that her interests were perfectly aligned with JMU and the Cresawn lab.

Cheyenne studied bacteriophages that infect species of the genus Mycobacterium. Discovered in 1915, bacteriophages were quickly found to have therapeutic effects in the treatment of both animal and human bacterial infections. In both Europe and the U.S., efforts were made to commercialize phage therapy, which was even used during World War II. However, the development of antibiotics delayed the growth and research of phage therapy.

Currently, there is renewed interest in phage therapy as it may be an important alternative to antibiotics. Bacteriophages are target specific and have co-evolved with bacteria for billions of years. Phage therapy may ultimately be a more effective way to treat bacterial infections. With the hope to contribute to the field, Cheyenne conducted a comparative genomics study. The overall results of the study provide insight into the natural selective pressures exerted on bacteriophage genomes in response to the changes in resistance of their hosts. This information is not only applicable to questions regarding microbial ecology and host-parasite ecology but it also has clinical implications. 

Cheyenne continues pursuing her broad academic interests in the sciences and cultural studies. After graduating with an M.S. in 2015, she started a 12-month program in medical laboratory science (MLS) through the Sentara Rockingham Memorial Hospital School of Medical Laboratory Science. During the next four to five years, Cheyenne intends to work in reference and screening labs where she will carry out procedures in microbiology, hematology, blood banking, serology, and clinical chemistry to help physicians diagnose their patients. Her long-term goal is to do work that uses science to enhance family and community welfare. In her own words, "I am having so much fun thinking about all aspects of science more deeply! I am so grateful to JMU, Steve Cresawn, and the [biology] department for giving me the chance to start learning to be a scientist."

Published: Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2018

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