I obtained my PhD degree from the University of La Laguna (Spain) in January 2016. I am a self-starter with a broad interdisciplinary background. During my predoctoral training I addressed the complex phenomenon of marine biofouling, i.e., the attachment and proliferation of marine organisms on immersed substrata, from bacteria to mussels. This was a completely new research line in my home lab. I explored the activity of natural products and synthetic chemical entities as antibiofilm and antifouling agents by establishing a wide screening panel that comprised both prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms as well as relevant enzymatic models, characterizing the mode of action of the bioactive compounds. Most of my research focused on bacterial biofilms. In this regard, I have studied bacterial biofilm architecture, nanomechanics, inter-cellular communication (Quorum Sensing) and c-di-GMP signaling making use of advanced microscopy, genetics and molecular biology techniques. Some bacterial models that I have used are Chromobacterium violaceum, Vibrio harveyi and especially, Shewanella algae. I have conducted research at Prof. Tino Krell lab (EEZ-CSIC) and Prof. Ute Römling lab (KI). I am now a postdoc at Prof. Agneta Richter-Dahlfors laboratory where I am addressing uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC) infection from different angles.
My research focuses on the integrated pathophysiology of UPEC infection. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are extremely common. Furthermore, they are often recurrent and they impose a huge burden to the health care system. I am interested in understanding how UPEC physiology changes in function of and adapts to the dynamic changes in the tissue microenvironment. I am also interested in the ability of UPEC to colonize the host tissues by forming biofilms, a multicellular-like lifestyle that confers an important survival advantage for bacteria within the host. I hope that a better understanding of these fundamental processes will lead to a better-defined picture of the infection process itself and eventually to more selective treatments to complement (or ideally substitute) the use of antibiotics for the treatment of UTIs.
Bacterial living sensors for the real-time monitoring of oxygen concentration during infection
UPEC faces many challenges during the course of an infection. Often, UPEC infection progresses from the urethra to the bladder (causing cystitis) up to the kidneys (causing pyelonephritis). During this ascending transit, bacteria face a progressively anoxic environment. During pyelonephritis, the local oxygen concentrations in the renal cortex go down to near zero within few hours. For this reason, bacteria need to adapt their metabolism from aerobic to anaerobic very readily. This switch is finely-tuned and is mainly initiated by two important regulators: FNR and ArcA. By integrating fluorescent genes under the control of constitutively expressed promoters in genetically engineered UPEC harboring mutations in these key anaerobic regulators we aim to visualize for the first time the progression from aerobic to anaerobic metabolism during pyelonephritis using intravital imaging without the need for any other external instrumentation. This project will also provide important physiological information from the infection microbiology perspective.
UPEC anaerobic metabolism during infection
In the absence of oxygen, bacteria can use alternative final electron acceptors for respiration. In E. coli, several terminal anaerobic reductases enable the utilization of a diversity of compounds when oxygen is not available. Since UPEC succeeds in colonizing the host tissues and causing infection even in a progressively anoxic environment such as the urinary tract, anaerobic metabolism is considered a key fitness factor in vivo. My research aims to determine the contribution of these anaerobic respiration pathways for bacterial virulence, tissue colonization and host immune response using an ascending murine infection model, from the bladder to the kidneys.
UPEC are social bugs: ecological interactions between isolates
In addition, I am interested in the sociomicrobiology of UPEC. Even though bacteria don’t use Facebook (for the moment), they also have social interactions! Do UPEC isolates cooperate or compete for the colonization of the human host or artificial materials such as catheters? Do these ecological interactions have an effect in bacterial virulence or biofilm formation? Which are the determinants for the success of one isolate or the other? What signaling processes are involved in these interactions? These are some of the questions I aim to address in my research. Making use of innovative image-based analysis and flow models developed at ARD’s group, I will be able to dissect quantitatively how these mixed biofilms are arranged spatio and temporarily. With these in vitro findings we will move to the in vivo situation by analyzing organ-specific competition.
Don’t be shy!
If any of this sounds interesting to you, please do not hesitate to contact me! I am always open to potential collaborators and enthusiastic students eagering to dig into the fascinating world of bacteria.
Academic honors, awards and prizes
FEMS Research fellow, Grant RG-2015-0084
Best Academic Record, MSc Biotechnology, 2012