John J. Mekalanos

Harvard University


Election Year: 1998
Primary Section: 44, Microbial Biology
Membership Type: Member

Research Interests

I am microbiologist who studies bacterial pathogens using primarily genetic approaches. The primary goal of my research is to identify the genes that allow bacteria to cause disease. These "virulence genes" typically encode factors that allow bacteria to adhere and multiply on host surfaces, injure host cells at a distance (e.g., toxins), or evade the host immune responses. By understanding the nature of virulence factors, it is possible to build more effective vaccines and therapeutics against pathogens. One of our longest ongoing efforts concerns the bacterium that causes cholera. We have defined many of the virulence genes of this organism, studied how these genes are regulated, and then utilized this information to construct safe, live, attenuated cholera vaccines. More recently, I have become interested in the field of genomics. The entire genetic blueprint of most of the major bacterial pathogens will be known in a few years. However, these raw DNA sequence data need to be integrated with functional studies. My research team is currently identifying genes that bacteria express specifically during infection as well as genes that are essential for bacterial growth. Our ultimate goal in these studies will be to uncover new antibiotic targets that can be used to combat bacteria that have become resistant to our most effective antimicrobial drugs.

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