PICTURE: Mehmet Orman, Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering and Biomolecular Technology at the University of Houston, received the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation for studying … view More
Photo credit: University of Houston
Mehmet Orman, Assistant Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Houston’s Cullen College of Engineering, was awarded the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award by the National Science Foundation. NSF CAREER Awards are given to promising young professionals who demonstrate the role of teacher-scholar through “excellence in research, excellence in education and the integration of education and research”.
With the CAREER award, Orman receives US $ 500,000 for the investigation of so-called persistent cells – those that become inactive and then become tolerant of unusual concentrations of antibiotics.
Antibiotic tolerance is one of the most critical global public health threats of the 21st century.
“Almost all bacterial cultures contain a small population of persistent cells,” Orman said. “It is believed that persisters are responsible for recurrent chronic infections such as those of the urinary tract and for the development of drug-resistant mutants.” Biofilms, a slimy accumulation of bacteria (like dental plaque), cause most bacterial infections, and persistent cells produced in biofilms can also make biofilms multi-resistant.
Orman’s goal is to find out what makes these persistent cells tick in order to identify common mechanisms they share across a variety of bacterial strains. Interestingly, persistent cells go in and out of their hibernation, and Orman will take a closer look at this.
“Persistent cell survival is characterized by inhibition of growth during antibiotic treatment and resumption of growth after removal of antibiotics. Persistent cells are generally thought of as dormant cells with a depressed metabolism,” Orman said. In contrast, his hypothesis driving this project is that persistent individuals have active but unique metabolic mechanisms that regulate the reversible switching and maintenance of these cells. As part of the project, Orman will also develop contact programs and materials to reach out to underrepresented youth in fourth through eighth grades.
For Orman, the cell’s name fits well with his determined persistence in studying it. Before that, he developed the first methods to directly measure the metabolism of persistent cells. He also developed cell sorting strategies to separate persistent from very heterogeneous bacterial cell populations. He will apply his methods in the NSF research project.
“The results will challenge paradigms of persistent cell rest and metabolism, shed light on the mechanisms of persistent cell resuscitation, provide platforms for studying the metabolic heterogeneity of persistent cell subpopulations during and after antibiotic treatment, and integrate multiple lines of evidence to our understanding of the eco-evolutionary aspects of bacterial persistence, “Orman said.
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