Dr Paul Bergen (2013)
I study how cells secrete proteins and how they assemble the transmembrane structures required to accomplish this challenging feat have long been an interest to scientists across many fields. I study a pair of related systems in Gram-negative bacteria called the Type III Secretion Systems (T3SS) that are involved in both virulence and motility. Gram-negative bacteria have two membranes that any molecule must transverse if it is to enter or leave the cell. The T3SS provides one such export pathway. My particular interests lie in the Salmonella flagellar T3SS export components and how they contribute to overall flagella assembly. Flagella, long helical propellers built far outside the cell, are necessary for many bacteria to swim in their environment and are vital in many models of infection. My work uses various structural, genetic, and biochemical techniques to discover and observe the changes at the nanometer scale in the export system and soon-to-be exported subunits. These changes are part of a larger orchestration of recognition, transit, and assembly that will, when performed without error, lead to a completed flagellum. If we can unlock the secrets of this system’s regulation and assembly, we will be better able to develop new treatments against notorious pathogens and have a greater fundamental understanding of biological nanostructures and protein dynamics.In addition to my research, I am interested in how science (both fundamental and applied) influences policy and how such changes are communicated to the lay public.