This lab is interested in bacterial pathogenesis -- how bacteria cause disease. They have worked most extensively with Vibrio cholerae, the bacterium that causes cholera, but they are also researching Francisella tularensis, the bacterium that causes tularemia, or rabbit fever.
Cholera is found only where there are widespread problems with sanitation, so improving water and food supplies would eliminate the disease. Since that is unlikely to occur, a safe, cheap, effective vaccine is needed that would protect people. To design such a vaccine, this lab is addressing questions such as: How does V. cholerae know that it is in a human body and that that is the place to express genes necessary for its survival and disease potential? What are the genetic factors responsible for V. cholerae to cause disease? How does this organism persist in aquatic environments, which lead to human infection?
Very little is known about F. tularensis or about tularemia. It is a highly virulent organism and can easily be aerosolized, so it is classified by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as a Category A select agent with the highest potential to be used as a biological weapon. This lab is working to identify genetic factors responsible for F. tularensis to cause disease and to develop suitable vaccine candidates to protect against tularemia infection.