Speakers

These are the 2024 speakers. The 2025 speaker list will be finalized later this year.

Helen Blackwell, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison

With the development of our synthesis platform well underway, the Blackwell lab is designing, preparing, and screening focused collections of small molecules to ask important questions in bacteriology. Specifically, they seek to uncover compounds that modulate key protein-protein interactions involved in bacterial communication pathways. At present, we are trying to intercept the binding of bacterial LuxR-type proteins to their cognate autoinducer ligands and subsequent homodimerization, which are pivotal events in Gram-negative bacterial quorum sensing circuits. Compounds uncovered in these screens will be the first to reveal molecular level features essential for autoinducer-regulated quorum sensing. Quorum sensing regulated behaviors in bacteria account for greater than 50% of all crop disease and 80% of human infections, therefore, active compounds emerging from their research could serve as scaffolds for agricultural agents and therapeutics with unprecedented modes of action. Their unique ability to rapidly manipulate the chemical structures of these molecules using microwave-assisted reactions will streamline their development as powerful tools in the laboratory, in the clinic, and in the field. Using this approach, they recently identified a set of quorum sensing antagonists that are among the most potent reported to date. On-going work is focused on further developing these compounds as probes, designing the first quorum sensing “super agonists”, and applying their integrated research approach to examine the alternate quorum sensing pathways used by Gram-positive bacterial pathogens.

 

Jason Crawford, Professor, Yale University

The Crawford laboratory is developing and systematically applying genome sequence-guided methods for the discovery of genetically encoded small molecules from mutualistic and pathogenic microorganisms. High-throughput genome sequencing of bacteria and fungi has revealed many highly unusual “orphan” biosynthetic gene clusters suspected of synthesizing novel, structurally diverse, and biologically active small molecules. These types of naturally produced molecules often regulate complex interactions with their animal hosts, hold a rich history of being utilized as human drugs, and serve as excellent molecular probes for identifying new drug targets for a wide variety of diseases. Using a blend of small molecule chemistry, protein biochemistry, cell biology, and microbiology, the lab exploits the natural interactions between bacteria and animals to discover new molecules with signaling, antimicrobial, immunosuppressant, and anticancer activities, connects them to their underlying biosynthetic gene clusters, characterizes and engineers the biosynthetic enzymes involved in their construction, and investigates their roles in biology and medicine.

 

Kimberly Kline, Professor, University of Geneva

The Kline laboratory is working to understand the bacterial virulence factors that contribute to colonization, biofilm formation, and infection by E.faecalis and related pathogens. Using genetic and biochemical approaches, coupled with high resolution microscopy and ‘omics approaches, they are exploring the molecular mechanisms that dictate focal localization of virulence factor assembly sites, using the pilus assembly platform as a model system. Using in vitro and in vivo infection models, they are examining mechanisms by which Gram positive uropathogens, such as E. faecalis, interact with the host to cause disease during monomicrobial, polymicrobial, and device-associated infections. The ability to form biofilms is a the major virulence determinant of Group A Streptococcus (GAS).  Using in vitro and in vivo models they are investigating bacterial and host factors and mechanisms promoting biofilm growth during GAS infection.

 

David Weiss, Professor, Emory University

The Weiss laboratory is largely focused on understanding mechanisms of antibiotic resistance and developing novel therapeutic approaches to combat drug-resistant bacteria. A major area of interest is elucidating the factors controlling heteroresistance, a phenomenon in which a minor subpopulation of cells exhibits phenotypic resistance and co-exists with a majority susceptible population. They discovered that the minor resistant subpopulation of cells can cause in vivo antibiotic treatment failure. If the frequency of the resistant subpopulation is especially low (<1 in 10,000 cells), isolates are often incorrectly classified as susceptible by current diagnostic tests, potentially leading clinicians to inadvertently use ineffective antibiotics.