The study of infectious disease is a constantly evolving field that deals with the emergence of novel diseases and identification of new pathogens. Some examples of bacterial diseases that have emerged or been recognized in recent years are Legionnaire's Disease, Toxic Shock Syndrome, hemolytic uremic syndrome caused by Escherichia coli O157:H7, and gastric ulcer/cancer caused by Helicobacter pylori. As new infectious diseases emerge and old infectious agents acquire resistance to current antibiotics, research into the basic molecular mechanisms by which bacteria establish infection and cause disease is essential for the development of new vaccines and therapeutic interventions. Many gaps remain in our understanding of the host-pathogen interactions that lead to successful infection, immune responses, and disease outcomes, providing multiple research opportunities in this area.
Molecular bacterial pathogenesis and vaccine development is the research focus of an eminent group of prokaryotic molecular biologists with primary and secondary faculty appointments in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Research in the labs of Drs. Barry, Donnenberg, Kaper, and Levine aims to understand the infection and disease process caused by intestinal pathogens such as diarrheagenic E. coli and Vibrio cholerae, as well as novel vaccine development using genetically attenuated Salmonella and Shigella strains. Drs. Barry, Levine and Nataro are also involved in the development of novel vaccines for bioterror agents such as Bacillus anthrasis, Francisella tularensis, and Yersinia pestis. Drs. Obrig and Obata study the cellular mechanisms of renal and CNS damage induced by Shiga toxin. Dr. Blanchard studies gastric infection by Helicobacter pylori and its suppression of host immune responses. Drs. Carbonetti and Oram study the respiratory pathogens Bordetella pertussis and Corynebacterium diphtheriae, in particular the role and regulation of toxins in their pathogenesis. The work of Drs. Azad and Bavoil concentrates on the obligate intracellular pathogens Rickettsia and Chlamydia, including interactions in invertebrate and mammalian hosts, and genomic approaches to virulence factor identification. Dr. Shirtliff is studying the role of biofilm development in the pathogenesis of staphylococcal infections of host tissues or indwelling medical implants. Dr. Ernst studies bacterial surface structures, including Lipid A, and the pathogenesis of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Francisella tularensis.
At the Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS), Drs. Fraser-Liggett, Fricke, Hotopp, Mongodin, Myers, Rasko, Ravel, and Tettelin are using a variety of genomic sequencing approaches, including metagenomics, comparative genomics and functional genomics, to study human intestinal and vaginal microbiomes, as well as evolution and diversity of a variety of bacteria including Bacillus anthracis, Borrelia species, Chlamydia species, Shigella species, pathogenic E. coli, Neisseria meningitides, Streptococcus species, Yersinia species and Wolbachia. The research of Dr. Carneiro da Silva centers on the evolutionary forces and genetic processes that shape genome evolution, including mutation rates and transposable elements, with a particular emphasis on parasites in the phylum Apicomplexa. See our Genomic Research page for more information, or visit the IGS website.
At the Columbus Center, investigators are studying a variety of extremophilic and archaeal prokaryotes, both from the basic research perspective and for biotechnological applications. Dr. DasSarma is studying transcription, DNA replication and repair mechanisms in halophilic Archaea and their involvement in pathogenesis and for drug development. Dr. Robb is studying protective chaperones of thermophilic Archaea and bacteria and their uses in biofuels research and development.