My research focuses on the advancement of forensics and genomics analysis of bacterial pathogens. The Pathogen Genomics Program will focus on three core missions:
- Bolstering of biodefense through improved forensic analysis
- Understanding interactions between man and microbe to develop new therapeutics and diagnostics that will alleviate the human ailments caused by dangerous pathogens
- Developing an improved understanding of disease movement to reduce and control the incidence of disease
The Pathogen Genomics Program is a joint program between the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the Northern Arizona University (NAU), which results in a unified approach to protecting America against dangerous pathogens, in particular Bacillus anthracis (anthrax).
While infectious agents have a long history as biological weapons, these agents pose significant danger to the United States, now more than ever. Generally, the biothreat agents themselves do not threaten our country's overall public health, however these agents do have unique attributes that facilitate their weaponization. Forensic analysis is particularly valuable as evidenced by the 1993 anthrax attack in Japan that was successfully linked to Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese doomsday cult, by my laboratory at NAU. During the 2001 anthrax investigations, my lab was called upon to play a critical role in providing the US military and intelligence community with cutting edge assays for biological weapons. We successfully delivered assays that were far superior to the assays used previously and available through the military labs. This was critical to both the investigations and the clean-up efforts on the east coast.
Building on the existing work at NAU and the genomics tools at TGen, the Pathogen Genomics Program will provide high-resolution genomic forensic analysis of biothreat pathogenic agents such as Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), Yersinia pestis (plague), Francisella tularensis (tularemia), Burkholderia mallei (glanders), Brucella melitensis (brucellosis), and Coxiella burnett (Q fever). These are considered the most dangerous of the bacterial bioterrorism and bioweapons agents.
The Program also will build upon our collaborations with state and federal agencies in developing molecular identification tools for public health related pathogens like E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, and tuberculosis, which cause illness in billions of individuals worldwide. We will continue to create the scientific base to launch responses for acts of bioterrorism and to develop strategies to optimize public health management.
In addition to development of advanced assays for dangerous pathogens, the Program focuses on understanding the interaction between the pathogen and its environment (ecology), the movement of the pathogen and the associated ailments though a population (epidemiology), and the changes associated with the propagation of the pathogen over time (evolution).