ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — A married couple, both U.S. Army research biologists, is working together to improve Soldiers’ ability to detect, identify and protect against potentially lethal biological threat agents.
RESEARCH FOR IMPROVED PROTECTION
Jody and Mark Gostomski’s research at Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, or ECBC, helps the Soldier defend against hazards in the field.
Mark works with dangerous organisms in ECBC’s Biosafety Level 3,. or BSL-3, laboratory, which is one of 45 in the country. He dons sophisticated protective equipment in highly controlled lab conditions to prepare the Army for worst-case biowarfare scenarios.
“We’re dressed head to foot in a Tyvek suit. We have a powered air-purifying respirator,” he said. “Everything we do is double-gloved. BSL-3 organisms are live, and they are higher risk.
“A requirement for Biosafety Level 3 is at least the opportunity to be vaccinated against different organisms — hepatitis, anthrax, botulism.”
Mark is researching the validation of a DNA extraction kit that will replace two kits, which will help streamline the bio detection process.
Jody manages a project to supply genomic material for the Critical Reagents Program. Her role in CRP is to provide high-quality and validated reference materials for use in the development and optimization of biological-detection technologies.
She plans laboratory activities, conducts quality control analysis on the material, and interacts with external agencies.
“It shows how collaboration among members of different branches really comes together and makes for a better product for the customer. For this project, we grow and isolate materials in the laboratory, at both the Biosafety Levels 2 and 3,” she said.
FOCUSED ON THE SOLDIER
Mark and Jody say that while they are focused on their daily research in the laboratory, it is imperative to remember the end-users — Soldiers.
“It’s easy to lose sight of the big picture. We do our job, and a lot of times we don’t think about who it impacts,” Mark said. “The work we do is ultimately for the Soldier.”
“The project I’m working on will help the Soldiers rapidly identify biothreat agents using the Joint Biological Agent Identification and Identification System,” he said. “They can find a sample in the field [and] process it through this kit in a matter of minutes. Within an hour, they have their data.”
Jody echoed Mark’s focus on empowering and protecting the Soldiers and Army civilians who will rely on the equipment’s scientific foundation during a mission. She helped train members of the 20th Support Command and CBRNE (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosives) Analytical and Remediation Activity.
“It’s easy to forget how your job impacts the warfighter,” Jody said. “When you’re in the lab in your own little space, it’s hard to see how that has a profound impact on the overall mission.
“I’ve had the opportunity to train mobile-lab users who go into the field. They may or may not be Soldiers, but they’re on a mission to collect samples and ultimately protect against any type of biowarfare agent.”
Jody said the opportunity to interact with end-users has expanded her understanding of the mission.
“I got to step outside of my laboratory setting and take the expertise and knowledge that I learned by working with these biological platforms [to] stand in front of a room of physical scientists and show them how to use these technologies,” she said.
BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP
The couple met in 2004 when Jody joined ECBC after graduating with a bachelor of science in biology from Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania. They both work for the BioSensors Branch within the BioSciences Division.
Jody said that Mark served as one of her mentors. He started working for ECBC 13 years ago while attending Towson University; he graduated in 2003 with a bachelor of science in biology.
“We really got to know each other throughout the course of five years of working together. We built a very strong friendship, both inside and outside of work,” Jody said.
They married in May 2011.
“What I really like about working with Mark is the reason that he and I became such good friends before we got married,” Jody said. “He is just a great sounding board. He is always the person I would go to when I had issues in the laboratory.
“If I had questions or needed help troubleshooting something, he was always my go-to guy. He always resolved my problems.”
INVESTIGATING SCIENCE OUTSIDE CLASSROOM
Jody and Mark encourage young students to explore science outside the classroom to see whether it would be a strong career fit. They are both studying for master’s degrees in biotechnology at Johns Hopkins University.
“As I got to college and had more experience in the laboratory, it was interesting to take what you were learning in the textbook and see that come to life through experiments in the laboratory,” Jody said. “I liked how hands-on it could be.
“If you have an interest in a science or engineering field, take every opportunity to become as exposed to those fields as you can with an internship at the college level or a shadowing experience in high school. Do something to get away from the textbook and actually get into the field where they’re using the technologies that you’re learning about,” she added.