The pathogen Clostridium difficile forms metabolically dormant spores that are resistant to heat and antimicrobial agents. The spores allow C. difficile, an obligate anaerobe, to survive outside of the low oxygen environment of the gut; they are also the infectious form of the bacteria. In order to cause disease, the spores must sense when they have reached the proper location in the mammalian gut and germinate to transform into metabolically active, toxin-producing cells. Since germination is required for infection, inhibiting this process could prevent disease. The goal of my research in the Shen lab is to gain insight into the molecular mechanisms of known C. difficile germination factors, including the Csp family of pseudoproteases, and to identify and characterize novel factors involved in C. difficile germination.
As part of my IRACDA training, I taught Microbiology at Pine Manor College.