Our group has focused on understanding and engineering CRISPR-Cas systems. These prokaryotic defense systems naturally cleave and degrade genetic material associated with plasmids or bacteriophages. However, their reliance on RNA to recognize complementary genetic material has allowed these systems to be co-opted for a wide range of applications, including genome editing, gene regulation, and antimicrobials to name a few. We are working to understand the natural role of these systems and the ways in which they can be exploited to rapidly understand and engineer bacteria.
One major application area is the development of CRISPR-based antimicrobials. This area of research stems from the need for novel antimicrobials to combat the rise of multidrug-resistant pathogens and the importance of preserving the natural microflora that exist in and on our bodies and in the environment. We have been exploring the capacity of these systems to elicit programmable, sequence-specific killing as well as delivery vehicles.
Another major application area is streamlining genetic tool development in bacteria. Genetic tools are essential aspect of any established model bacterium such as E. coli, yet these tools are rudimentary or even unavailable for the vast majority of bacterial world. Part of the challenge is that genetic tool development traditionally has been a pain-staking process that begins anew with each undomesticated bacterium. We seek to streamline this process in order to make tool development an afterthought, allowing researchers to concentrate on bacteria that are the most scientifically important rather than those that are already genetically tractable.