Jennifer Higgins received two prestigious scholarships during her years at Middlebury. In 2005 she received a Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship, a national award granted annually to outstanding students pursuing careers in math, natural sciences and engineering. In 2007, she received a Fulbright Scholarship to travel to Mongolia to study the traditional animal care practices of indigenous people.
Jennifer Higgins, a biochemistry major, began researching marine sponges in 2003 for a project in Middlebury College Professor of Biology Tom Root's class in invertebrate biology. "Jennifer's project was unique, well-designed and very thoughtful. She is very bright, deliberative, disciplined and ambitious," said Root.
Higgins continued this investigation for her senior thesis project, working with Professor of Chemistry Jim Larabee. According to Higgins, antibiotic resistance is increasing and traditional sources of medicinal drugs have been nearly exhausted. "The most promising source of new drugs is the ocean," she said. "The ocean covers 70 percent of the planet and is estimated to contain more than 80 percent of the planet's plant and animal species."
For her thesis project, Higgins concentrated on species of marine sponges found off the coast of Maine. Her research results attested to the viability of using sea sponge derivatives to address the problem of antibiotic resistance. In 2003, she conducted a preliminary study, called a bioassay, of two sponge species, and discovered one of them to have antimicrobial activity, an indicator of potential anti-cancer activity.
"The search for potential drugs is not only relevant to me as a scientist, but is also very important to the entire human population," said Higgins, "Many ocean species suffer from pathologic conditions similar to humans, and this type of research may soon hold the key to the fight against cancer and the evolution of antibiotic resistance." Higgins is pursuing a career in marine biomedicine and marine pathology research and is currently a veterinary student at Colorado State.