Reese Research Program Overview
As advancements in human health and medicine allow individuals to live longer, many spend time in a state where their immune systems are compromised. This can make patients more vulnerable to opportunistic pathogens, such as the environmental fungus Cryptococcus neoformans. This organism is the causative agent of pulmonary cryptococcosis, which if left untreated can lead to a deadly form of meningitis. My scientific interest is to understand more about the biology of this pathogenic or disease-causing fungus. To cause disease, the fungal cells have to be surrounded by a capsule made of a complex sugar structure. My research has focused on the fungal cell surface; how cell wall components attach to capsule material, how they are regulated, and how they might be interrupted as a method of disease treatment. Because the natural reservoirs of these fungal organisms are not fully understood, another aspect of my research program is to study where this fungus is found in the environment. I am also interested in other related fungi, particularly Rhodotorula species, which have been linked with disease but are even more poorly understood than Cryptococcus species. We are using what we have learned about cells of Cryptococcus to use them as a model for studying Rhodotorula cells. In the past, I have had students working on projects in the area of microbial forensics, largely influenced by the number of Cedar Crest students who have an interest in forensic science but who loved their microbiology class and joined my research lab. I also have a collaborative grant with Dr. Richard Kliman to collect and identify natural cryptococcal isolates in order to completely sequence their genomes to analyze for codon usage.