Iowa Alumni Magazine | October 2005 | People

Security Fellow: Stephen Lindermann

By Shelbi Thomas

F rancisella tularensis. Many people would struggle to pronounce the term, let alone define it. In fact, if they knew the government considered it a Category A Select Agent—a public health threat of the highest grade—they’d probably steer clear all together. Stephen Lindemann can’t wait to slip on his rubber gloves to study this infectious bacterium in his lab at the UI.

Stephen Lindemann Department of Homeland Security fellow and UI microbiology grad student Stephen Lindemann says he became interested in studying bacteria after reading about biochemical threats.

One of only 50 students chosen nationally for a Department of Homeland Security  fellowship, the microbiology grad student from Munster, Indiana, is helping make the world safer from such biological threats. He spent this summer at an internship in Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he and other students from across scientific disciplines learned how their efforts could help combat bioterrorism.

“It gave me an opportunity to see what’s going on outside my little sphere of influence,” Lindemann says. “If you don’t have anything like this, you can’t see the forest for the trees.”

While in Los Alamos, Lindemann studied the risk of Francisella tularensis and other naturally occurring bacteria being used as biological weapons and the potential severity of a resulting disease outbreak. Francisella tularensis causes tularemia, also known as rabbit or deer fly fever, an acute disease found in rabbits and rodents that can spread to other animals and humans.

Lindemann’s research into the bacterium’s genetic makeup should help scientists prepare for and design countermeasures against a biological attack. Physicians will also benefit from a better understanding of the disease.

It was hard for Lindemann to leave his lab coat behind for ten weeks to dive into theoretical biology and biophysics, but he gained a valuable new set of skills. Lindemann says not enough biologists are trained in both computational biology and lab work, and he’d like to bring the two areas together.

 After finishing his Ph.D., Lindemann hopes to continue working in the field of biological threat reduction, whether in a national lab, academy, or university setting.

“We don’t understand Francisella tularensis at all. It’s a bizarre bug,” he says. “Somebody has to fill in the gaps in the knowledge base if we’re going to design countermeasures or assess the risk.” Lindemann hopes to be that person.