Research in the Hunter lab is broadly focused on the in vivo ecology and metabolic strategies of respiratory pathogens. Using approaches developed by traditional microbial ecologists, they strive to define the environmental chemistry of the airways, how microbes co-evolve, and how to manipulate this niche to slow disease development. Using a combination of high resolution imaging and ecological tools, efforts are focused on two main areas of emphasis:
- Carbon acquisition: The primary sources of energy for bacterial growth in the respiratory tract are poorly characterized. The lab is defining the microbe-microbe and host-microbe interactions that sustain the bioavailable carbon budget in the infected respiratory tract, and the bacterial metabolic strategies used to obtain these resources. To do so, they collaborate with clinicians in the Adult CF Center and the Department of Otolaryngology, collect respiratory mucus samples from inpatients, and use genomic tools (TnSeq, 16S gene sequencing, RNAseq) to characterize the in vivo physiology of bacterial pathogens.
- Ecological dynamics of chronic sinusitis: Bacterial sinusitis affects more than 15% of the population, though the microbiology of this disease remains poorly understood. Recent 16S sequencing efforts have implicated a number of suspected pathogens, but bacterial metabolic strategies and their specific contributions to upper airway disease are not yet known. These researchers utilize a combination of single cell imaging, 16S sequencing, proteomics, and geochemical measurements (pH, O2, nutrient sources) to characterize the ecological dynamics of chronic sinus infections.