Outstanding Islander Graduate Studies Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Texas Oysters

Published: July 26, 2017

Outstanding Islander Graduate Studies Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Texas Oysters

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Throughout his years at the Island University, James Tallman has been a researcher, scholarship recipient, published author and a mentor. An Islander through and through, who attended Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi for both his undergraduate and graduate degree, Tallman will walk the stage August 5, to receive his Master of Science in Marine Biology and has been accepted into the Molecular Virology and Microbiology Ph.D. program at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

For his thesis work, Tallman used DNA sequencing technology and bioinformatics to detect antibiotic resistance genes indicative of antibiotic resistant bacteria in four marine bodies of water along the Texas coast – Copano Bay, Galveston Bay, Nueces Bay and 1852 Pass, located near Packery Channel.

“The rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a global human health crisis,” said Tallman.

Tallman went out either on foot or by boat and gathered a dozen oysters from each site, along with a liter of water. Then, he took these oysters back to the laboratory and extracted DNA from the oysters’ stomach contents.

“Through this work, I’ve determined that oysters are promising bioindicators of antibiotic resistance in the coastal environment,” said Tallman. “I hope the data and methods I’ve developed help resource managers and public health officials in future investigations of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in coastal environments.”

Tallman was raised in San Antonio and always knew he wanted to study marine biology.

“Marine biology is such a large and diverse field,” said Tallman. “It’s widely believed that human health and the health of our biosphere depends on the health of the oceans.”

As for where to study, Tallman made no hesitations.

“Texas A&M-Corpus Christi was the clear choice for my degrees,” said Tallman. “It didn’t hurt that it’s only two hours from home and it’s located on an Island! I would’ve been crazy to go anywhere else.”

During Tallman’s undergraduate studies, his primary research interests were in fish biology. However, through the mentorship from his professors, especially Dr. Gregory Buck, Associate Professor of Biology and Biomedical Sciences, he switched gears to focus on bacterial human pathogens and used oysters in his thesis study because of their promise as an indicator species for the health of the water in which they reside.

“When I decided to change directions, I asked Dr. Buck if he had any available tech positions,” said the 24-year-old. “He didn’t, but pointed me in the direction of a new faculty member, Dr. Jeffrey Turner. Dr. Turner soon became my employer and subsequently the best thesis advisor anyone could ask for.”

In 2016 and 2017, Tallman co-authored and published two papers on different species of Vibrio bacteria. In addition, he currently has four manuscripts in preparation.

“Seeing your name on a paper is the product of a lot of hard work and stress,” said Tallman. “You get such a great feeling when you see it. It means you finally finished a project you spent a lot of time on and it means other people think it was a good use of your time.”

Along with success in the lab, Tallman was also a leader in student organizations. A member of both Texas Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate (AGEP) and The Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS), Tallman served as SACNAS Vice President for the local chapter during his last year at A&M-Corpus Christi. 

“The support organizations like AGEP and SACNAS give to their members is incredibly helpful for growth as a student, as a professional, and as a person,” said Tallman.

During his time as an Islander, Tallman received scholarships and grants totaling more than $18,000, including Federal Pell Grants, Rising Scholar Scholarships, the Summer Graduate Scholarship, and the Student Success Scholarship, among others. He has also mentored six undergraduate students, helping them with research and conference presentations.

Tallman credits many professors with helping him succeed as a student researcher – Dr. Bart Cook, former Assistant Professor of Biology, first pointed him in the right direction during his undergraduate studies; Dr. Chris Bird, Assistant Professor of Biology, allowed Tallman to work in his lab first as a volunteer, then a paid technician for two years; and Dr. Jennifer Pollack, Assistant Professor of Marine Biology, offered her guidance and expertise during his thesis research.

“Also, Dr. Jeffrey Turner hired me as a lab technician and later took me on as his first Master’s student. He has included me in as many research projects as possible, given me every opportunity to gain diverse laboratory experience, and has spared no expense for my project or my education,” he said. “Then, of course, I would not be where I am today, doing what I am doing, or going where I am going if it weren’t for Dr. Buck. He instilled in me a lasting appreciation for microbes and has taught me the vast majority of what I know about microbiology.”

Ultimately, Tallman aims to be the head of his own research laboratory to study human pathogens and help fight them.

“A&M-Corpus Christi has prepared me for my Ph.D. and future research in many ways,” said Tallman. “Most importantly, I learned that it is critical to explore all of your options and available paths. At TAMU-CC, I was given the opportunity to try my hand in many different fields. Through this, I have found my calling.”

The Summer 2017 Commencement Ceremony is the largest Islander summer ceremony to date, with more than 570 students set to graduate.