Bacteria are everywhere around us, on us, and inside us. Whether bacteria are beneficial, pathogenic, symbiotic, or simply do their own business in the environment, those tiny organisms are incredibly resilient and can adapt to a wide array of stresses thrown at them. Our lab is fascinated about bacterial adaptability. We ask: How do those bacteria survey and respond to their environments? How do they reprogram themselves to thrive under hardship? and Can we identify their weak spots to treat bacterial pathogens?
One of our model bacteria is the human pathogen Listeria monocytogenes, a notorious foodborne pathogen with a mortality rate of nearly 20% among clinical patients. Listeria exemplifies a remarkably adaptable bacterium. It is abundantly present in the soil, water, and the natural environments. It can easily contaminate the human food production chain, where again it not only survives but grows under harsh antimicrobial and preservative treatments. Finally, Listeria infects a large number of animal species, including humans. Listeria infection begins in the gastrointestinal tract, but can become lethal as Listeria spreads to different organs. Our immediate goal is to understand how Listeria transitions among these places, adapts, and infects mammalian hosts. We believe that by learning these events, we can inform antibacterial treatments of Listeria infection and other bacterial pathogens.
You may wonder, but what happens in Listeria isn’t necessarily true for other bacteria. Indeed, we love other bugs too! And we would also like to learn how other bacteria work individually and together in inter-species communities. Our other model bacteria include Bacillus species, Bacteroides species, and beyond.
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