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Already immortal: Emilia Czyszczon discovers a previously unidentified virus

By Amy Raley

Already immortal: Emilia Czyszczon discovers a previously unidentified virus

Author: Amy Raley
Magazine Section: Change The World
College or School: CoE
Article Type: Article
A virus all her own: Emilia has made history and staked a claim on immortality. She discovered a previously unidentified virus that will bear her name: Czyszczon1.

Decisive and bold: “I decided to be a little bit of an overachiever about it.” That’s how Emilia sums up her decision to go deep into a privately owned Bedford, Ind., cave for a soil sample that produced her unique bacteriophage—a virus that infects bacteria. “We took a boat on the underground river in the cave, and I took a small soil sample from the wall. It was glacial mud that’s been around since the ice age.”

Emilia Czyszczon

Testing 1,2,3: Time-consuming testing of the sample ensued. But it wasn’t all smooth spelunking. A lab accident created a delay that caused her to miss a deadline for gene sequencing, so she sought the funding needed to submit it later. “I had a week to write a research proposal,” she says. Inspired by Emilia’s effort and imagination, three Purdue faculty members dug into their own pockets to help fund her work, and she also received a grant from the College of Agriculture.

The real thrill: Bacteriophages kill bacteria, and that’s the excitement for Emilia. “They show potential for fighting bacterial-caused diseases at a time when bacteria are becoming resistant to antibiotics.” In fact, her research has shown that the virus she discovered kills a form of bacteria that’s similar to tuberculosis and leprosy. “Tuberculosis is prone to being antibiotic resistant. It would be cool to see if my bacteriophage could be a stepping stone to finding a treatment for tuberculosis.”

A chip off the old block: Emilia’s dad and “best friend,” Andrew Czyszczon, attended Purdue after coming to the United States from Poland and working in a Gary, Ind., steel mill. He took exams with a Polish-English dictionary, earning a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1969. He’s a civil engineer for the city of Chicago.