Evolution of microbial virulence

There is currently a poor understanding of how a relatively harmless microbe can evolve into one that causes disease. However, analyzing microbial DNA indicates that these bacteria may exchange their DNA with one another, essentially sharing genes that cause disease. Some microbes have evolved into disease-producing organisms relatively recently, making them good models for examining how bacteria results in disease. That’s because we are more likely to relate genetic changes in bacteria to those that cause virulent disease when the changes are more recent. My team is conducting laboratory and computer research to analyze the role gene exchange plays in the development of disease-causing microbes, and to characterize the evolution of recent disease-causing microbes. Understanding how benign bacteria evolved into virulent disease-causing bacteria will increase knowledge of how bacteria cause disease and lead to genuinely new therapeutics and prophylactics to combat current disease-causing microbes, and hopefully help prevent new ones from emerging in the future.