Date of Completion

Spring 5-1-2020

Thesis Advisor(s)

Dr. Sarah Hird

Honors Major

Molecular and Cell Biology


Computational Biology | Environmental Microbiology and Microbial Ecology | Genomics


Over two million tons of feather waste is generated annually by the poultry industry, the majority of which goes into landfills due to the difficulty of degrading its major component keratin. Although a portion of feather waste is eliminated via incineration or chemical treatment, the use of Feather Degrading Bacteria (FDB) has been proposed as a cheap and eco-friendly alternative. FDBs have been consistently isolated from the feather microbiome of birds and contain genes coding for the specialized protein keratinase which is able to degrade feathers. By doing so, feather waste, which is rich in nutrients, can be repurposed as animal feed or fertilizer. More research into FDBs is needed to determine whether or not this process is viable on a large scale. In this study, I aimed to identify FDBs and conduct a search for keratinase genes within their genomes. Bacterial swabs were collected from Saltmarsh and Seaside Sparrows in the state of Connecticut which were then isolated and tested for feather degrading ability. Six FDBs were then selected, their genomes sequenced and the raw reads assembled. Genomes were taxonomically identified using NCBI BLAST and StrainSeeker and all six bacteria were consistently identified as Bacillus pumilus, a known FDB. Primers for keratinase genes were identified using Geneious and it was found that four of the six bacteria contained at least one of the primers. Three of the samples contained multiple primers in the same area suggesting the presence of a keratinase gene, however more research is needed for confirmation.