Our Research

Synthetic Microbiology

Bacteria motility Our research in this area focuses on developing a unique microbial tracking system that enables us to monitor entire bacterial communities with single-cell resolution over multiple generations. Through this system, we study surface sensing, multicellular behavior coordination, and multigenerational memory transfer, which could provide insights into how bacteria interact with their environment and each other, with potential implications for medicine, agriculture, and environmental science.

Innate Immune Peptides and Antimicrobials

HIV TAT Peptide Our goal is to gain a deeper understanding of the sequences of innate immune peptides, and therefore structure and function, through the application of machine learning, geometry, and coordination chemistry. We are currently investigating the relationships between autoimmunity and innate immunity with various bodily systems, including the nervous, cardiovascular, digestive, and endocrine systems. This includes exploring the properties of host antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), antimicrobial neuropeptides for CNS defense, cell-penetrating peptides, mitochondrial remodeling proteins, apoptosis proteins, enterotoxins, and other related molecules.

  • Innate immunity and antimicrobial peptides
  • Antibiotic-resistant pathogens and antibiotic design
  • Transporter sequences and cell penetrating peptides for drug delivery
  • Budding and scission peptides in viruses
  • Autoimmune diseases (Ex: lupus, psoriasis)

Synthetic Immunology

Synthetic Immunology We have found that innate immune peptides hold a remarkable ability to guide and organize Toll Like Receptor (TLR) ligands into crystalline complexes that can present themselves in a multivalent manner. These complexes are spaced in such a way that corresponds to the size of TLRs, resulting in a heightened immune response. We have observed this phenomenon in plasmacytoid dendritic cells with dsDNA/TLR9 and in keratinocytes with dsRNA/TLR3. Our team has also found that these supramolecular complexes can be programmed to assemble in a manner that is either pro-inflammatory or anti-inflammatory, making them a promising avenue for further research in immunology.

The Physical Immunology of COVID-19

COVID-19 We are deeply interested in studying the physical factors that make the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 so hyperinfectious and hyperinflammatory. More specifically, we seek to understand how SARS-CoV-2 induces cytokine storms, catastrophic coagulation, skin rashes and lesions (MIS-C, 'covid fingers and toes'), as well as the connection between COVID and autoimmune diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and atherosclerosis. Additionally, we aim to investigate why some coronaviruses are capable of inducing these consequences while others are not and the phenomenon of 'long COVID'.

Bacterial Communities and Biofilms

Bacteria We are interested in the progression of a biofilm from its inception to mature state and subsequent dispersal of new progenitor cells. The first step in forming a biofilm is a single cell making contact with a surface. One of the questions that we study is "How does a cell know that it is on a surface?". We utilize time- lapse microscopy of flow cell systems and image processing to track the development of a biofilm from its initial cell, analyzing its behavior and expression as it divides and progresses through the early stages of biofilm formation. Our research has implications for infections biofilm protects bacteria from antibiotic intervention making treatment difficult, such as in implants and in cystic fibrosis (CF). Some of our areas of research include:

  • Bacterial Communities and Interactions
    • cdGMP and cAMP Signalling
    • Cellular Surface Motility
    • Bacterial Swarming
    • Social Organization in Biofilms
  • Image processing, machine learning, application of 'big data' methods
  • Biofouling
  • Cystic Fibrosis

Enabling Fundamental Science: Physics, Chemistry, Biology

Fundamental Science

  • Protein-lipid interactions and membrane curvature generation (Ex: Apoptosis proteins and cancer therapeutics)
  • Synchrotron x-ray methods
  • Physical chemistry of solvation (Ex: femtosecond hydration dynamics of ions and surfaces)
  • Soft condensed matter physics of self-assembly (Ex: polymers, polyelectrolytes, membranes, liquid crystals, colloids, nanoparticles)