Mohamed O. Elasri
Professor and Associate Dean, Research and Graduate Affairs
BSC 476/576 Molecular Biology
BSC 481/581 Pathogenic Microbiology
The focus of my research program is to understand the molecular mechanisms that lead to infection caused by staphylococci. This human pathogen causes a wide variety of infections that range from superficial to deep and chronic infections. Treatment of staph infections is complicated by the advent of resistance to multiple antibiotics. Stains known as MRSA and VISA are becoming increasingly prevalent and are no longer confined to hospital settings. The goal of our research is to identify new targets to treat staph infections. The approach we have taken is to find genes that are known as global regulators, which control the expression of genes involved in the disease process. Global regulators can be thought of as master switches that modulate the production of several virulence factors that are necessary for staph to invade the human host, evade the immune system, and produce toxins. The idea is that if such a switch can be turned off then staph would not be able to multiply in the host or cause disease. We have discovered an operon that we named msaABCR and shown that it regulates 238 genes many of which code for virulence factors that contribute to disease. We have shown that msaABCR is essential in three important processes, which include biofilm development, virulence, and antibiotic resistance. All three areas are important in infection and resistance to treatment. We are currently working on several projects designed to understand the mechanism of action of the msaABCR operon. We have recently identified the MsaB as a transcription factor that activates capsule production. We are also interested in investigating the role of three non-coding RNAs within the msaABCR operon and their role in regulation of virulence and biofilm formation.