Caroline S. Harwood

University of Washington

Election Year: 2009
Primary Section: 61, Animal, Nutritional, and Applied Microbial Sciences
Secondary Section: 44, Microbial Biology
Membership Type: Member

Research Interests

As a microbiologist I have studied mechanisms used by bacteria to degrade environmental pollutants and to sense and respond to environmental signals. My laboratory elucidated the main metabolic pathway used to biodegrade compounds with benzene rings in the absence of oxygen. We also established that bacteria can sense and swim towards a wide range of environmental pollutants including benzene, toluene, naphthalene, trichloroethylene and the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. This ability to behaviorally respond to pollutants is a key component enhancing their biodegradation. These results led me to investigate the Wsp signal transduction system in the opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa. We showed that this system regulates biofilm formation by modulating intracellular levels of cyclic diguanylate (c-diGMP) and thus identified c-diGMP as an attractive target for developing new drugs to combat chronic infections in cystic fibrosis patients. More recently I have worked on developing a metabolically versatile phototrophic bacterium named Rhodopseudomonas palustris, as a model organism for the production of hydrogen gas as a non-polluting energy source. This work involves understanding how bacteria integrate diverse environmental signals and diverse metabolic modules to perform a function that may be useful to humans.

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