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Dr. Christopher Pritchett, Assistant Professor of Health Sciences in the College of Public Health, and two of the graduate students working in his laboratory presented the results of their research at the recent annual meeting of the American Society of Microbiology. ASM is the oldest and largest life science membership organization in the world, with almost 40,000 world-wide members.
In one poster, Dr. Pritchett and masters student Tyler Speaks reported on the Gac/Rsm system of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacteria that can be highly virulent in humans, especially in immunocompromised hosts, including those with cystic fibrosis. It is believed that the Gac/Rsm system plays a major role in the switch of P. aeruginosa from an acute to a chronic infection. Specifically, their work studied the regulatory system in P. aeruginosa that maintains elevated levels of the Gac/Rsm system in chronic infections. They demonstrated that RsmA controls alginate production in chronic strains of P. aeruginosa and how the AlgU system controls rsmA expression. This finding, which was confirmed with clinical isolates, is the first demonstration of these two systems cooperating in chronic P. aeruginosa and provides new avenues of research to combat the organism.
In the second poster, Dr. Pritchett and doctoral student Sean Stacey, studied alginate overproduction, one of the factors that allows P. aeruginosa to persist in the lung environment. Their work identified a new regulatory system that controls alginate production in certain P. aeruginosa strains. Future research is attempting to define the mechanism by which this system controls alginate production, in the hopes of identifying new drug targets.
Dr. Pritchett, who received his PhD in Microbiology from the University of Maryland, has been recognized for his commitment to the inclusion of students in his research, regularly working with both graduate and undergraduate students. He and his students have been recognized for their work in recent Appalachian Student Research fora, and Dr. Pritchett was selected by his peers as the winner of the 2013 Foundation Teaching Award for the College of Public Health.