I am fascinated by understanding how things work. Curiosity and predisposition for learning are the two main reasons that push me forward to explore everything. Following certain logic throughout my professional career, I am primarily interested in how bacterial cells interchange pieces of DNA called mobile genetic elements. These mobile elements are quite significant since give bacteria the ability to survive in many places including us. Understanding at the molecular level how mobile genetic elements move is my first goal. This knowledge will undoubtedly led us to identify new proteins. With that knowledge we will be able to design new molecules with the potential to be used in our benefit, which is my second goal.
All cellular organisms on this planet have one biological process in common: DNA replication. To do so, the two strands of DNA have to be separated. Some mobile genetic elements also replicate and are good model systems to understand this process. I am primarily interested in studying the initiation of replication which is the process by which the strands of DNA are separated at the very first step generating a specific structure known as replication bubble (see cartoon). Depending on the model system, lots or few proteins are involved in the process.
Bacteriophages or phages are viruses that infect bacteria. Remarkably, they are the most abundant biological entities on the biosphere. There is a debate about if phages (or viruses) are organisms or not. Some people do not consider phages as organisms because phages can’t reproduce autonomously. Other people do consider viruses as organisms with a two-stage life cycle: intracellular and extracellular. Phages are composed by a nucleic acid molecule (DNA or RNA) surrounded by a coat of proteins. To reproduce their genetic material as well as to make more proteins, they need to infect a bacterial cell and as a consequence of the phage’s cycle the bacterial cell dies. We can use phages to treat bacterial infections. It is called phage therapy. In order to escape from the phage, bacterial cells evolve and in order to infect bacteria, phages evolve too. This process is known as evolutionary arms race. Therefore, we find in nature some bacteria that are resistant to some phages. Can we engineer phage-like particles to treat bacterial infections more efficiently?