Our bacteriology program carries out fundamental research on antimicrobial discoveries, host-bacterial interactions, pathogenesis of bacteria and vector-borne bacteria, vector biology, and diagnostics. Research conducted by Drs. Daniel Nelson, Utpal Pal, Sean Riley, Xiuli Yang, and Sandip De aim to understand the human and animal bacteria and disease process caused by bacteria such as Borrelia burgdorferi, Clostridium difficile, Leptospira, Rickettsia, Staphylococcus aureusStreptococcus, as well as novel vaccine and antimicrobial development using molecular engineering approaches.

The emergence of multidrug-resistant bacteria, new pathogens, and the desire to reduce and eliminate antimicrobial use in agriculture products have open areas to identify and develop alternative antimicrobial therapeutics. Dr. Nelson’s Lab uses multidiscipline approaches to discover peptidoglycan hydrolase enzymes, called endolysins, from bacteriophage and applies them to bacterial pathogens. These enzymes act rapidly on contact to degrade the bacterial cell wall of both human and animal pathogens, resulting in the death of the bacterial cell, such as Staphylococcus aureusStreptococcus, etc. To improve endolysins function, Dr. Nelson’s lab is engineering and producing endolysins with more desirable reliability and enhanced properties. 

The bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi causes Lyme disease. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected black-legged ticks. Dr. Pal has established research programs in areas of arthropod-borne pathogens, particularly focusing on Borrelia burgdorferi.  His research aims to understand the biology of both bacteria and tick vector, host-pathogen interaction and pathogenesis. The ultimate goals are to develop novel diagnostic methods, vaccines, and therapeutic strategies. Dr. Pal’s research has identified a panel of borrelial infection-inducible tick proteins that are essential for bacterial persistence. His current studies attempt to explore whether these tick antigens can be used as targets for developing preventive strategies to prevent infection. The work of Dr. Yang, in Dr. Pal’s group, is studying the role of host factors in the pathogenesis of Borrelia burgdorferi infections and developing novel intervention strategies for bacterial transmission. Dr. Sandip De, in Dr. Pal’s group, is studying epigenetic regulation of host, vector, and microbial genes relevant to tick-borne infections.

Leptospirosis is a disease caused by infection with Leptospira. The infection from animals to humans occurs when a wound in the skin encounters water or soil contaminated with animal urine Dr. Pal's research is developing RNA-detection based assays for diagnosing human leptospirosis. These assays could also improve the diagnostics of animal leptospirosis.

The bacterium Rickettsia rickettsii causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), the most common rickettsial infection in the USA. Rickettsial pathogens are usually spread to people through the bites of ticks, mites, fleas, or lice that have previously fed on infected animals. Dr. Riley focuses on developing our understanding of the host-pathogen interaction between obligate intracellular Rickettsia, mammalian hosts, and arthropod vectors. Specific investigations include: deciphering the interactions between Rickettsia and innate immunity, hijacking the molecular interactions between bacteria and host cells to develop therapeutics, employing genomic approaches to find virulence factors that contribute to diseases, and using evolutionary biology to identify promising vaccine candidates.