Professor, Biomolecular Chemistry
5204B Biochemical Sciences Building
Despite their importance in many areas, fungi represents a woefully understudied branch in the tree of life. The consequences of this deficiency on humans are no more apparent than in our lack of understanding of human fungal pathogens. Fungi now represents the fourth most common cause of hospital-acquired infection, and therapeutic options for treating severe disease are limited. In addition, the mechanisms by which fungi reproduce and interact with the environment (including human hosts) are largely unknown.
Research in my laboratory focuses on three broad areas: 1) understanding the molecular mechanisms that control fungal development and sporulation, 2) elucidating the basic properties of spores that allow them to be infectious particles, and 3) characterizing key interactions between fungal spores and the mammalian immune response.
We use the meningitis-causing environmental fungus Cryptococcus neoformans as a model for our studies. C. neoformans causes over a million cases of disease and approximately 600,000 deaths per year worldwide. Among the human fungal pathogens C. neoformans is the most amenable to laboratory analysis and represents a relatively facile system for the study of fungal development and virulence.
Using biochemical, genetic, molecular, bioinformatic, and cell biological approaches we are elucidating the basic processes and mechanisms important for C. neoformans to undergo sexual development (gene regulation, protein-DNA interactions, transcriptional networks), determining the resistance, growth, and surface properties of spores (cell differentiation, developmental biology, carbohydrate chemistry), and investigating how spores interact with macrophages in culture and in mice (immunology, virulence).