Our laboratory addresses the molecular mechanisms involved in the internal organization of bacteria at several levels, from its origin, maintenance, and replication in time and space to its function in cellular physiology and morphogenesis. Our primary model system is the highly polarized dimorphic Caulobacter crescentus because of its unique set of strengths for addressing questions pertinent to positional and temporal information. Cellular asymmetry is morphologically apparent in C. crescentus by the presence of polar appendages (e.g., stalk, pili, and flagellum), and by the obligatory asymmetric division that yields daughter cells of different size, fate, and morphology. Populations of C. crescentus cells can be easily synchronized with respect to the cell cycle, providing a means to follow events during the cell cycle. This bacterium also displays a sophisticated morphology and it possesses all three major types of cytoskeletal elements, MreB (actin homolog), FtsZ (tubulin homolog), and crescentin (intermediate filament-like protein).
For our studies, we use an arsenal of genetic, biochemical, bioinformatic and cell imaging tools. A large part of our current strategy is to improve the inventory of components involved in cellular organization, characterize the function and interplay of known components, evolve our work into quantitative studies and computational modeling, and develop new methodology to generate provocative hypotheses and new avenues of research.
As an Innovation Fund investigator, Jacobs-Wagner and her lab are teaming up with the lab of Erol Fikrig, M.D., to investigate the intricate relationship between the Lyme disease bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and the arachnid that carries it: the tick. They hypothesize that a component of the B. burgdorferi cell envelope influences the ability of ticks to tolerate the bacteria and pass them to animals. This team will combine Jacobs-Wagner’s expertise on bacterial physiology and the genetic tools to study bacteria with Fikrig’s work on the immunological response to tick-borne diseases to identify the bacterial products and the tick genes that are important for the bacteria’s successful colonization in the tick and subsequent transmission to animals. This work could broaden the current understanding of this unique pathogen-host relationship and spur new strategies to combat tick-borne diseases.