My research interests center on understanding developmental regulation and cell-to-cell communication in bacteria using Myxococcus xanthus as the model organism.
M.xanthus belongs to class of microorganisms called myxobacteria. They are a diverse group of gram-negative rod shaped bacteria found ubiquitously in soil. They exhibit social behavior that depends on close cell-to-cell interaction. They are predatory, and have been described as traveling in “wolf-packs”, devouring prey bacteria, yeast, and other organic detritus, digesting them by secretion of lytic exoenzymes. When starved of nutrients,the bacteria aggregate into fruiting bodies, where rod-shaped cells undergo complex remodeling to become spherical dormant spores. Spores germinate when favorable conditions return. Starvation-induced development is a fascinating process, which is spatially and temporally regulated by a series of biochemical signals.
In my research program, I integrate microbiological, molecular, biochemical, and next-gen sequencing approaches to solve fundamental questions in cell-signaling and gene regulation. The M. xanthus genome codes for an abundance of proteins predicted to be involved in signal sensing and integration of transcriptional responses, and the bacterium is readily amenable to genetic manipulation. This makes it an excellent model system to study cell differentiation, and to investigate the mechanisms by which microbial communities sense and respond to environmental and cell-to-cell signals.