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Grasshopper

Terri N. Ellis

Associate Professor

Phone: (904) 620-5766
Office: Building 59/3312
Email: terri.ellis@unf.edu

 

 

Faculty Bio

Research Interests

Infectious Disease, Antibiotic Resistance, and Bacterial Pathogenesis

Areas of Expertise

Teaching Responsibilities: Microbiology (both majors and health science majors), Pathogenic Bacteriology, Immunology 

Education

B.S. (Biology) Duke University (1996)
Ph.D. (Microbiology) University of California, Davis (2004)
Postdoctoral training- Duke University, Kuehn Lab

Biography

Research in my lab focuses on the outer surface of pathogenic (disease causing) Gram-negative bacteria. Gram-negative bacteria, unlike other cells, are surrounded by a distinctive cell wall and second, outer phospholipid membrane. Bacterial species within this group include such well known bacteria as E. coli, Salmonella, and Vibrio cholerae. This second membrane contains molecules distinctive to this group of bacteria that contribute to the virulence of pathogenic strains of these bacteria in addition to roles in basic physiology. From this outer membrane, bacteria can secrete outer membrane vesicles. These vesicles can contribute to bacterial pathogenesis by altering host cell functions and triggering inflammation. Beyond this cell wall, many Gram-negative bacteria also secrete a capsule, a thick, slimy polysaccharide layer that encases the entire bacteria. The capsule is a known virulence factor of disease causing bacteria, as it limits the ability of phagocytic white blood cells to grip, engulf, and destroy the bacteria as part of the body’s immune defenses.


I am interested in understanding how modifications to these outer surfaces, including the outer membrane, secreted outer membrane vesicles, and capsule, all contribute to the virulence of disease causing bacteria. For this work, I have focused on Klebsiella pneumoniae. This bacterial species is the third most common cause of nosocomial (hospital acquired) infections and is responsible for over 7,000 deaths per year in the United States. Klebsiella is known to cause urinary tract infections, pneumonia, liver abscesses, and bacterial sepsis. Alarmingly, up to 50% of these infections are resistant to most current antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance in bacteria is primarily a result of acquisition of well characterized resistance genes. However, resistance in Klebsiella commonly pairs acquisition of these resistance genes with other changes to the outer surface components as well. Some of these changes include: increased production of the outer polysaccharide capsule, halted synthesis of specific transport proteins (porins) embedded in the outer membrane that allow antibiotics to penetrate into the cell, and chemical modifications to the lipid components of the outer membrane. All of these changes have been observed in clinical isolates of resistant strains from lethal infections. My research focuses on how these changes to the outer surface, that are associated with antibiotic resistance, impact the virulence of the bacteria and the progression of disease. While these changes have been well documented in the clinic, and can be used as diagnostic markers of resistance, their impact on bacterial pathogenesis have not been fully investigated.

 

My lab utilizes a range of proteomic, biochemical, cell biology, genetic, and immunology based techniques. Using this integrative approach, we investigate how small changes to the outer surface of these bacteria trigger larger downstream alterations in virulence. Incorporated into all investigations is student training. I rely upon both undergraduate and graduate students in all aspects of my research, as evidenced by their inclusion as first and co-authors on all publications, and presentations, in both oral and poster format, at regional and national level scientific conferences.

 

Are you a UNF undergraduate student interested in working in our lab? Great! Undergraduate and post-baccalaureate students are a key part of the Ellis lab. I require a commitment of at least 6 hours per week, over the course of multiple semesters or summers. It’s just not possible to get you doing productive and interesting science in only one semester. Most students work in my lab for at least 2 semesters and a summer. I accept students for the start of Fall, Spring, and Summer. Students must be actively enrolled at UNF to work in my lab. If you want to apply, please email me a note about your interests, an unofficial copy of your transcript, and the name of a recent lab instructor who I can contact. I review applications in the first two weeks of November, April, and July. Beyond that, you are welcome to contact me to talk more about what we do in the lab.

We are currently looking for new Master's students to join the lab. Potential graduate students with an interest in antibiotic resistance, membrane biology, and host-pathogen interactions should contact Dr. Ellis be fore submitting a UNF graduate school application.