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Science

Brothers and Colleagues

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William Farmer (left; undergraduate in biology) catching up with brother Jackson Farmer (right; Research Associate, Kaplan Lab) in lab.
William Farmer (left; undergraduate in biology) catching up with brother Jackson Farmer (right; Research Associate, Kaplan Lab) in lab.

It’s not every day you get the chance to ask a colleague what it’s like to work across the hall from his brother. I was fortunate enough to have this opportunity, as I sat down to talk with the Farmer brothers, Jackson and William Farmer, who are working in the Biology department right here at American University.

Jackson, the older of the two siblings, began his time at AU as an undergraduate student in Biology in 2010. Coming from a small town in Florida, Jackson decided on AU because he wanted to embrace life in the big city as a part of his educational experiences. After taking Dr. Jeffery Kaplan’s microbiology class in the Spring of 2013, Jackson got a research position in the lab of Dr. Kaplan, the microbiology lab on campus.

The Kaplan lab’s research focuses on the study of bacterial biofilms. This sticky matrix is secreted by microbes and enables bacteria to stick to surfaces, allowing colonies to form on rocks in streams, pipes, and medical devices. These slimy layers protect these microorganisms from antibiotics and other environmental compounds.  The long-term goal of the Kaplan lab is to someday treat and protect humans from bacterial infections.

Jackson enjoyed participating in the Kaplan lab and applied to the combined BS:MS program here at AU. His master’s thesis entitled, “Role of extracellular DNA in biofilm formation by Staphylococcus aureus,” used live/dead staining, confocal imaging and various biochemical methods to characterize the biofilm of certain strains of Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium commonly known to cause skin infections, sinusitis, and food poisoning. Jackson completed his master’s thesis in the Summer of 2015 and has since continued to work in Dr. Kaplan’s lab as a research associate and as an employee of Kappa Biofilm, Dr. Kaplan’s company. Kappa Biofilm utilizes methods to extract often unidentified bacteria from the environment and characterize their biofilm.

Like Jackson, William too wanted to move to a larger city for college. William, who always had an interest in science decided on New York University (NYU) Polytechnic Institute for undergrad where he’d major in Chemical Bioengineering. William soon learned that he had no interest in advanced physics classes and decided engineering wasn’t for him.

Intent on finding the right fit, William transferred closer to home at -- Gulf Coast State College -- where he obtained his Associates of Arts in Biology.  With good experiences in biology at the Gulf Coast State College combined with advice and guidance from Jackson, William decided to make the jump and transfer to the undergraduate BS program in Biology at AU. AU’s small department size, potential for undergraduate research experience, and location in D.C. made AU a highly desirable option.

Once on campus, William quickly got involved in the lab of Dr. Daniel Fong at AU who works with amphipods and the biodiversity of subterranean fauna. William is currently working on sectioning amphipods in order to view the brain of different populations of amphipods.

This fall, William will be continuing his research with Dr. Fong as he enters AU’s MS Biology program. William chose the full two-year program over the typical combined BS:MS program for undergrads as this two-year program will allow William to become a Teaching Assistant (TA) and get first-hand teaching experience in one of the undergraduate introductory biology labs. Will is excited to build on his teaching experience – an opportunity not all master’s programs provide. He’s hoping to TA for cellular biology!

The Farmer brothers work across the hall from each other and often rely on one another for advice. They share similar friends and live in the same neighborhood. When asked if they ever get on each other’s nerves or fight, as siblings typically do, William replied that they often get into “passionate debates.” Jackson, with a laugh, agreed.

As far as long-term career goals go, Jackson’s career aspirations include working in the biotechnology or pharmaceutical industry. William is hoping to climb the academic tree and advance to a PhD in cellular and molecular biology and continue with a post-doctorate. We hope to continue to see all the great work being conducted by the Farmer brothers as they advance their careers!