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Research Overview

Most fungi related to systemic human infections are environmental pathogens that do not require the host to complete their normal life cycle. Much remains unknown regarding how and why pathogenicity has evolved in these environmental fungi. Our study is driven by those questions. Our model system is one of the most successful environmental pathogens, Cryptococcus neoformans, which is responsible for 1 million new infections and 600,000 deaths annually worldwide. My lab investigates social control mechanisms underlying cryptococcal pathogenicity, environmental adaptation and sexual reproduction, a proposed contributor important for the evolution of virulence. Our research focus on three areas:

(1) We study the key decision-making circuits engaged in the formation of different morphology subpopulations during sexual community differentiation or during disease progression. We use genetics, cell biology, and biochemistry along with deep-sequencing methods to dissect the molecular basis of morphology heterogeneity in C. neoformans.
(2) We explore novel intercellular and intracellular signals, understanding their mechanisms of action.
(3) We unveil unique and ubiquitous environment sensing systems in environmental human fungal pathogens, exploring their functional roles in pathogenicity, specificity and evolution.

As a long term goal, we will focus on applying the knowledge from these studies to systematically identify virulence factors, and ultimately develop new therapies to prevent and/or manage fungal infections.