Boo Shan Tseng studies bacterial communities called biofilms. Bacterial biofilms impact everything from industry to agriculture to medicine, and are everywhere around (and in) us. The assistant professor in the School of Life Sciences loves to discover the unknown in her own research and to help foster that curiosity in students.
What appeals most to me about UNLV is the Top Tier initiative. Joining the faculty here at this point in time is a unique opportunity to be a part of the community that helps make UNLV one of the best public research universities.
I got my bachelor of science from MIT, studying biology. I got my Ph.D. from Rockefeller University in New York City, studying how DNA is properly segregated during cell division. For my postdoctoral studies, I was at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, which is where I started studying bacterial communities.
I was born in Hong Kong, but grew up in Plattsburgh, a small city in upstate New York.
What drew you to your profession?
I have always been curious about the natural world. There is so much that is unknown and so much left to discover, which is really exciting. I chose to become a professor because not only can I continue to discover the unknown in my own research, but I also can help foster that curiosity in students.
I study bacterial communities called biofilms. Bacterial biofilms impact everything from industry to agriculture to medicine. For example, the bacterium that I study, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, causes chronic biofilm-based infections in humans and livestock. These infections are extremely difficult to eradicate because the biofilm protects the resident bacteria from antimicrobial treatment. Some of this increased antimicrobial tolerance is due to the matrix that holds the biofilm together. My interest is in identifying components of this matrix and studying how these components help protect the biofilm-resident bacteria, with the hope of applying this basic knowledge toward developing better therapeutics.
What do you find most interesting about your field?
The thing I find most interesting about bacterial biofilms is that they are everywhere around (and in) us. From the human gut to the pipes that bring water in and out of the building to the soil outside, biofilms can be found in almost any setting. And while different bacterial communities form in these different environments, biofilms show how well bacteria can adapt to their surroundings.
One of the biggest challenges in studying biofilms is that there is still so much that is unknown. While biofilms have been studied since the 1950s and we’ve gained a lot of knowledge in the past 65 years, we seem to have only scratched the surface. For instance, we still don’t have a complete parts list of what makes up the matrix that holds the biofilm together, and this parts list may vary depending on which bacteria are in the biofilm. A complete understanding of all biofilms may never be possible, but it is exciting to try.
Tip for success
Don’t be limited by what you think will happen before you actually try.
Can’t work without
I would not be able to work without a diverse network of good colleagues. Conducting science without consulting others is not only less fun, but it is also less productive. Talking about my science with others helps develop my ideas. And some of the most interesting conversations I have had about my science are with people who are outside my field and, therefore, see things from a new and different angle.
I love to hike and spend time in the outdoors. I also enjoy baking and working out at the gym.