Mighty Microbes: From Menace to Marvel


Dr. Bonnie Bassler, Princeton University, HHMI

“Manipulating Quorum Sensing to Control Bacterial Pathogenicity”

Bonnie Bassler, Ph.D., is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the Squibb Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. Dr. Bassler received a B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of California at Davis, and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the Johns Hopkins University. She performed postdoctoral work in Genetics at the Agouron Institute, and she joined the Princeton faculty in 1994. Dr. Bassler is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2002 and also elected to the American Academy of Microbiology in 2002 and made a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2004. In 2003 she was given the Theobald Smith Society Waksman Award and in 2006 recipient of the American Society for Microbiology’s Eli Lilly Investigator Award for fundamental contributions to microbiological research. In 2008, Dr. Bassler received Princeton University’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching and in 2009 recipient of the Wiley Prize in Biomedical Science for her paradigm-changing scientific research. Last year she received the National Academies’ Richard Lounsbery Award. She is the 2012 UNESCO-L’Oreal Woman in Science for North America.

The research in Dr. Bassler’s laboratory focuses on quorum sensing, the molecular mechanisms that bacteria use for intercellular communication. Using a combination of genetics, biochemistry, structural biology, chemistry, microarray studies, bioinformatics, modeling and engineering studies, Dr. Bassler’s research on quorum sensing is providing insight into intra- and inter-species communication, population-level cooperation, and the design principles underlying signal transduction and information processing at the cellular level. These investigations are also leading to synthetic strategies for controlling quorum sensing. Her laboratory’s objectives include development of anti-microbial drugs aimed at bacteria that use quorum sensing to control virulence, and improved industrial production of natural products such as antibiotics.


Dr. Nancy Craig, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, HHMI

“Tales of Transposons”

Nancy Craig, Ph.D. is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and a Professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Nancy Craig's research concerns DNA rearrangements, i.e. the reorganization of DNA sequences by breakage, translocation, and rejoining reactions that mediate a wide variety of fundamental cellular processes. These rearrangements play an important role in the acquisition of new genetic elements such as viruses, in the control of gene expression during development, and in the repair of damaged DNA. Dr. Craig is particularly interested in the type of rearrangement called DNA transposition, in which a discrete DNA segment moves from one donor position and inserts into another, non-homologous target site. The research in Dr. Craig’s laboratory is focused on the molecular mechanisms by which transposable elements move and how they can be exploited for genome engineering. Her laboratory studies elements from prokaryotes and eukaryotes, using genetic, molecular biology, and biochemical methods.


Dr. Fernando de la Cruz, Instituto de Biomedicina y Biotecnologia de Cantabria IBBTEC (Spain)

“Plasmids: diversity, structure and design”

Fernando de la Cruz, Ph.D., is Professor of Genetics in the University of Cantabria (Spain) since 1984. He is an expert in mobile genetic elements, with a focus in plasmid biology. He has worked for many years on the mechanisms of bacterial conjugation. His research interests presently focus on the construction and analysis of plasmid devices used for systems and synthetic biology.

Dr. de la Cruz heads The Intergenomics Group at the Instituto de Biomedicina y Biotecnologia, which is composed of 20 researchers with a common general research focus on plasmid biology and, more specifically, the mechanism of bacterial conjugation. Among the members of the group there are experts in microbiology, bacterial genetics, protein engineering, protein purification, crystallography, electron microscopy and biocatalysis. This makes the Intergenomics group a powerful team that can work independently or in cooperation with other research groups.


Dr. Ralph R. Isberg, Tufts University School of Medicine, HHMI

“Patterns of recognition by the pathogen and the host”

Ralph Isberg, Ph.D., is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Professor of Molecular Biology and Microbiology at Tufts University School of Medicine where he has been since 1986. The long-term goals of Dr. Isberg’s laboratory are to determine how targeting of host cells leads to microbial growth and how the host responds to this challenge by either collaborating or interfering with microbial replication. On several fronts his laboratory is moving toward finding out why certain cellular interactions are so critical for supporting microbial replication in the host. This is approached through the analysis of two Gram-negative bacteria, Yersinia pseudotuberculosis and Legionella pneumophila with the primary research interests being understanding how a pathogen coordinates its entire protein arsenal to cause disease. This has driven Dr. Isberg’s laboratory to use mixed pathogen-host genetic analysis to find solutions to functional redundancy, an issue that confounds the analysis of many pathogens. The recent advances from his lab that he is most excited about are: 1) a scheme that for identifying host proteins that act to collaborate with the pathogen to promote successful colonization by bacteria; 2) strategies that were developed in the lab to solve the problem of functionally redundant pathways encoded by pathogens; and 3) the formulation of the Pathogen Pattern model for innate immune activation, which explains how hosts are able to discriminate virulent microorganism from harmless commensals.


Dr. Richard Losick, Harvard Medical School, HHMI

“Going Green”

Richard Losick, Ph.D., is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, a Harvard College Professor and the Maria Moors Cabot Professor of Biology in the Faculty of Arts & Sciences at Harvard University. He received his A.B. in Chemistry at Princeton University and at Ph.D. from MIT. He was a Junior Fellow of the Harvard Society of Fellows. He is a past Chairman of the Departments of Cellular and Developmental Biology and Molecular and Cellular Biology. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a Member of the American Philosophical Society, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.
Dr. Losick is a recipient of the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, the Selman A. Waksman Award of the National Academy of Sciences and the Canada Gairdner Award.

The research interests in Dr. Losick’s laboratory include development in the spore-forming bacterium Bacillus subtillis, protein subcellular localization, chromosome segregation, intercellular signaling and the formation of architecturally complex communities of cells. Dr. Losick’s laboratory also investigates the mechanisms of bacterial biofilm formation and disassembly and applies this knowledge to antimicrobial development, clean water supply, protein and small molecule production.


Dr. Tom Muir, Princeton University

“Collaborative studies on Agr via the “FDR”: when organic chemistry and microbiology collide”

Tom Muir, Ph.D., is the Van Zandt Williams Jr. Class of ’65 Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. He received his B.S. in chemistry in 1989 and his Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1993, both from the University of Edinburgh. After studying bioorganic chemistry as a postdoc and then as a senior research associate at the Scripps Research Institute, he joined the Rockefeller University in 1996 as Assistant Professor. He was named Associate Professor in 2000, Professor in 2002 and Richard E. Salomon Family Professor in 2005. He was also director of the Pels Family Center for Biochemistry and Structural Biology at Rockefeller. In 2010 Professor Muir joined Princeton University.
Dr. Muir received the Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists and the Vincent du Vigneaud Award in 2008, the Irving Sigal Young Investigator Award in 2005, the Leonidas-Zervas Award in 2002 and a Burroughs Wellcome Fund New Investigator Award in 1999. He was deemed an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow in 1999 and a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences in 1977. Dr. Muir is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dr. Muir’s laboratory investigates the physiochemical basis of protein function in complex systems. His work, which combines the tools of organic chemistry, biochemistry and cell biology, has lead to a largely chemistry-driven approach that has resulted in the development of a suite of technologies now widely used by chemical biologists around the world. The major focus of Dr. Muir’s current research is in the broad area of epigenetics where his group is applying in vitro protein chemistry methods to study how histone modifications control the local structure and function of chromatin. Another active area of research in the Muir lab focuses on quorum sensing in the pathogen Staphylococcus aureus. The Muir laboratory studies a class of the secreted peptides produced by the bacterium that have the ability to activate or inhibit expression of virulence, depending on which strain of S. aureus the peptides encounter.


Dr. Lucy Shapiro, Stanford University School of Medicine

“Systems Architecture of Bacterial Cell Cycle Control”

Lucy Shapiro, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Developmental Biology at Stanford University School of Medicine where she holds the Virginia and D. K. Ludwig Chair in Cancer Research and is the Director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine. She is a member of the Board of Advisors of The Pasteur Institute and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, and is a member of the Board of Directors of Gen-Probe, Inc. She founded the anti-infectives discovery company, Anacor Pharmaceuticals, and is a member of the Anacor Board of Directors. Professor Shapiro has been the recipient of multiple honors, including: election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the US National Academy of Sciences, the US Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Microbiology, and the American Philosophical Society. She was awarded the FASEB Excellence in Science Award, 2005 Selman Waksman Award from the National Academy of Sciences, the Canadian International 2009 Gairdner Award, the 2009 John Scott Award jointly with Harley McAdams, and the 2010 Abbott Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dr. Shapiro’s studies of the control of the bacterial cell cycle and the establishment of cell fate has yielded valuable paradigms for understanding the bacterial cell as an integrated system in which the transcriptional circuitry is interwoven with the three-dimensional deployment of key regulatory and morphological proteins, adding a spatial dimension to the systems biology of regulatory networks.


Dr. Matthew K. Waldor, Brigham Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, HHMI

“Deciphering epigenetic control mechanisms in bacterial pathogens with single molecule DNA sequencing”

Matthew Waldor, M.D., Ph.D., is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the Edward H. Kass Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and an attending physician in infectious diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston. As an undergraduate at Yale University, he studied philosophy and biology. He carried out his doctoral work with Larry Steinman and received his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University. After an internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women's Hospital and an infectious disease fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, he did postdoctoral research with John Mekalanos at Harvard University.
Matthew Waldor has been the recipient of the Squibb award, the Presidential award for early career scientists, a Pew fellowship and a MERIT award and he has been elected a Fellow of the Infectious Disease Society of America, American Academy of Microbiology and American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Dr. Waldor’s research is focused on the evolution, pathogenicity and cell biology of clinically important enteric pathogens including Vibrio cholerae, vibrio parahaemolyticus and enterohemorrhagic E. coli, all of which are major causes of diarrheal disease globally.