The human body routinely encounters many threatening infectious agents, including Salmonella and pathogenic E. coli. Most Salmonella and E. coli infections arise from oral ingestion of tainted food or water and are a significant cause of disease and death in animals and humans worldwide. Salmonella bacteria cause typhoid fever, a frequently fatal infectious condition that is common in the developing world. It also causes gastroenteritis, a type of food poisoning characterized by abdominal pain, fever, vomiting, and diarrhoea. Salmonella species are close relatives of E. coli, which cause numerous diseases including meningitis, urinary tract infections diarrhea and fatal kidney disease. The bacteria infect and interfere with normal function of cells in the stomach and intestine to cause disease. However, the molecular mechanism of how these pathogens adhere, enter, survive, replicate, and exit host cells is not well defined.
Although attacks from infectious agents are common, extremely few actually lead to infection. The body possesses a very powerful and efficient set of conserved mechanisms that deal rapidly with nearly all microbial infectious agents. This system, called “innate immunity”, is the primary defence mechanism of most multicellular organisms. To cause an infection, a successful pathogen must overcome innate immunity.
Research in my lab is focussed on understanding bacterial pathogenesis from the perspective of both pathogen and host. In addition to studying the molecular mechanisms of pathogenicity for Salmonella and E. coli, we are interested in gaining further understanding of the critical human innate responses to microbial infection. By applying techniques from several disciplines including microbiology, cell biology, biochemistry, immunology, genomics and bioinformatics we have begun to understand the molecular mechanisms of microbial pathogenesis, ultimately allowing development of novel vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics that can be used to control infections caused by a wide range of globally important pathogens.