The long term goal of our research is to understand the molecular mechanisms of natural transformation in Neisseria species which include the obligate human pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae as well as several commensal Neisseria species which reside in the human nasopharynx. N. gonorrhoeae is the sole etiologic agent of the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea. In the United States, gonorrhea is the second most frequently reported communicable disease. Although antibiotic treatment has historically been effective in control of the disease, the increased prevalence of antibiotic-resistant N. gonorrhoeae has severely limited available treatment options. Accordingly, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has classified N. gonorrhoeae as a ‘superbug’, and current treatment recommendations include multiple antibiotic therapy.
Natural transformation is a widespread mechanism of horizontal gene transfer in bacteria, a major driver of evolution, and can spread antibiotic resistance and virulence determinants. Transformation can be divided into three steps, 1) DNA binding, 2) DNA uptake, and 3) DNA recombination into the chromosome. Many proteins have been shown to be involved in these complex steps of transformation. Genetic evidence suggests that inter-species and intra-species transformation occurs frequently in Neisseria. Broadly, our objectives are to investigate the molecular mechanisms of transformation and DNA recombination in the pathogenic N. gonorrhoeae and to understand the mechanisms of intra-species and inter-species Neisseria transformation. We use a variety of molecular biological, genetic, and biochemical techniques to investigate the molecular mechanisms of genetic transfer in these species.