Research in the Duerkop lab focuses on bacteriophages (aka. phages) and interactions with their bacterial hosts. Bacteriophages are the most abundant organisms on the planet, and almost all known bacteria can be infected by one or more phages. Phages make up a large component of mammalian associated microbiomes, yet we have only begun to scratch the surface on understanding how phages contribute to the functionality of these microbial communities and whether they have a role in shaping human health. Phages also hold great promise as next generation antibacterial therapeutics. Therefore, the long term goal of our lab is to gain a deeper understanding of the mechanisms used by phages to modulate bacterial communities and determine the effects of phages on health and disease.
We use a combination of genetic, biochemical, computational and immunological techniques to probe phage-bacterial interactions. The lab focuses on two major areas of research:
- We are studying the molecular mechanisms that phages use to infect bacteria, and the strategies that bacteria employ to subvert infection. We isolate novel phages that target antibiotic resistant bacteria by screening environmental reservoirs, such as wastewater. Specifically, we focus our studies on Enterococcus species including E. faecalis and E. faecium which are Gram positive intestinal pathobionts that can transition from benign commensals to opportunistic pathogens
- We are exploring how phage communities or the “virome” is shaped by the mammalian immune system by using a combination of computational and wet lab approaches. We are interested in whether perturbations in phage populations driven by the immune system alter the homeostasis of intestinal bacterial communities contributing to intestinal health.