Associate Professor Mikael Elias

Biochem,Molec Biol,Biophy MEDX
Medical School
Twin Cities
Project Title: 
Deciphering the Action of Chemical Signal Disruption on Microbes

Antibiotic-resistant strains represent a growing environmental and health threat in our society, and there is a growing need for the development of new countermeasures. A promising strategy is to  interfere with bacterial chemical communication, a phenomenon known as quorum sensing. Indeed, the disruption of bacterial communication has been shown to drastically reduce bacterial biofilms and virulence. Surprisingly, natural enzymes that can degrade signaling molecules were recently shown to inhibit biofilm and biofouling in the context of complex microbiomes. This observation is not explained by our current understanding of bacterial signaling, and these researchers are addressing that lack of fundamental knowledge. Moreover, recent work has repeatedly highlighted the key importance of microbiomes in relation to human health. The control of microbiomes for treating disease states is promising, but that approach is currently crippled by a lack of available tools and knowledge. For this reason, this group is studying the effect of signal disruption on complex microbial communities. Using a specific bioreactor they have created, changes in microbiomes and gene expression patterns induced by signal disruption can be monitored. The researchers can then engineer different types of specific signal-disrupting enzymes, and monitor the different biases introduced in microbiome composition. These experimental data will be fed into a mathematical model to help derive rules governing microbial communities. These studies will provide unique information on the mechanism of bacterial signaling, and aim to explore the potential of engineering enzymatic tools to affect microbiomes, and control them. They have the potential to deliver smarter therapies in which microbiomes are not wiped by biocidal agents, but rather they can be tuned to inhibit pathogens and favor health-supporting bacterial communities.

Project Investigators

Dr. Juan Abrahante Llorns
Mai Beauclaire
Associate Professor Mikael Elias
Kathleen Mahan
Rakesh Sikdar
Dr. Christopher Staley
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