Tying the gut in knots: Characterizing how pathogenic E. coli transform the gut cell landscape

Diarrheal disease affects 1.7 billion people every year, killing around 760,000 children. A leading cause of this disease are bacteria like enteropathogenic Escherichia coli (EPEC). EPEC’s ability to cause disease relies entirely on creating an environment in which it can thrive. EPEC achieves this by secreting “effector” proteins directly into human host cells, which rewire the human cell, allowing EPEC to take control of cell immune signalling. One way effectors work is by chemically modifying host proteins with phosphate groups (phosphorylation), which may alter how proteins interact with one another.

Dr. McCoy’s research will develop a method for studying the interaction between bacteria like EPEC and their human hosts. His preliminary data has shown that a group of drugs called bumped kinase inhibitors (BKIs) can block this interaction. Expanding on this, he will aim to reveal how EPEC uses phosphorylation to manipulate the human host and establish infection.