Every once in a while I get emails asking about the type of research I do. I started working with bacterial genetics when I was only 20 years old in a lab in Sao Paulo during my college years, then worked at Stanford on biotechnology of vaccines, a very exciting period in my professional life, and the beginning of me falling in love with beautiful California. Went back to Brazil, had my own lab for a few years, left to work at Institut Pasteur in France, where I met the scientist who years later would become my husband. We’ve been working as a team for almost 17 years now, trying to figure out the mechanism of a transport reaction in bacteria.
We study how bacteria such as Escherichia coli and Listeria monocytogenes get iron from the environment and “swallow it up.” The metal is indispensable for bacteria as well as all other living organisms to survive, but it is very tricky to obtain. Iron can be compared to money in the sense that everyone who has it tries to protect it from being taken away. However, bacteria developed sophisticated systems to do just that: steal the iron from you and use it to survive. Since all pathogenic bacteria need to obtain iron to cause disease, we hope that our research will lead to the discovery of new weapons to fight infections.
If you want to read more about it, visit our lab website, still under construction, but already in good enough shape to give you a general idea of what we do.
Here at UCLA we are studying a different transport system, that allows bacteria to take up a sugar called lactose. A lot of what we are learning in this system will help our own research in Oklahoma in the future.