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Bacterial FOMO

Dr. Jon Paczkowski

One could say Jon studies bacterial FOMO, or Fear Of Missing Out, for those of us who didn’t grow up with a cell phone in our hands.

Just as teenagers incessantly check their social media feeds to see what their peers are up to, bacteria constantly monitor signals from their peers.

Teenagers can’t plan what they’ll do until they see what their friends are up to, while bacteria collectively ramp up their biofilm production in response to signals from their peers.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Wadsworth Center Welcomes Dr. Jon Paczkowski

Dr. Paczkowski received his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 2014 and was a postdoctoral fellow in the Bassler Laboratory at Princeton University prior to joining the Wadsworth Center. Here he uses the model organism Pseudomonas aeruginosa to study microbial signal transduction and cell-cell communication.

Significance

CDC dubbed multi-drug resistant P. aeruginosa a serious public health threat. It is of particular concern to those with cystic fibrosis, as well as the immunocompromised, including those undergoing chemotherapy. P. aeruginosa is a member of the notorious ESKAPE organisms (an acronym for Enterococcus faecium, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Acinetobacter baumannii, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Enterobacter) responsible for the majority of the drug resistant, hospital-acquired infections worldwide. Frequently, it can become extremely difficult to beat, developing into a chronic illness.

P. aeruginosa can exist in two forms, chronic and non-chronic, each with different characteristics. The ability to generate a biofilm is one reason it’s able to persist. This biofilm serves as a kind of “cloak of invisibility” from the immune system.

Say when!

Bacteria send out signals in the form of molecules. They receive the signal when a molecule binds to a receptor on the cell surface. Bound receptors tell the bacterium that the concentration of peers is high, triggering several pathways, turning on genes, and making proteins, some of which are involved in biofilm formation.

Going forward

This form of cell-cell communication, known as quorum sensing, is now understood to be the norm in the bacterial world. By studying these bacterial signals, or autoinducers, the Paczkowski lab is poised to answer some longstanding questions in biology. Regarding bacterial communication, how do bacteria selectively bind certain molecules but not others; how do they correctly interpret mixtures of autoinducers from themselves, their kin and non-kin; and how do they as a group formulate the correct response? More globally, the Paczkowski lab hopes to understand how all organisms decode environmental stimuli.

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