EMERGENCE AND EVOLUTION OF BACTERIAL PATHOGENS
Our primary scientific interest lies at the interface between ecology and pathogenesis. The lab’s work focuses on the emergence and evolution of pathogenic bacteria. We investigate how environmental factors affect their pathogenic potential, which genetic traits are prerequisites in colonizing a new niche such as the human host, how they acquire and regulate virulence genes, and what are their ecological relationships with other members of their natural environment.
We study members of the family Vibrionaceae, a highly diverse group of marine bacteria that includes from symbionts to human pathogens. In particular, we work extensively with Vibrio cholerae, the etiological agent of the severe diarrheal disease cholera. V. cholerae has a complex life cycle which includes numerous hosts and reservoirs. Interestingly, only a handful of V. cholerae strains cause the disease. Due to its peculiar lifestyle and the confined phylogenetic nature of its pathogenic isolates, V. cholerae is an attractive model for the study of pathogen emergence and evolution.
FROM BAYS TO BASES
We are deeply interested in understanding pathogenesis and niche colonization from multiple angles. Thus, other Vibrios we study include Vibrio vulnificus, the cause of a deadly septicemia, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, a foodborne pathogen that causes bloody diarrhea, Vibrio coralliilyticus, a temperature dependent coral pathogen, and Vibrio fischeri, the light-emitting symbiont of squids and other marine animals.
Our research approach strives to be holistic and multidisciplinary; what we call “From Bays to Bases”. It encompasses a mix of molecular biology, genomics, phylogenetics, pathogenesis, and ecology. We believe that by understanding pathogen evolution and ecology we will ultimately gain the knowledge that will allow us to forecast the traits of emergent virulent strains, predict the sources of outbreaks, and to design and produce affordable and safe vaccines and reliable treatments against bacterial threats.