Program in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics
The Graduate Program in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics (MIMG) awards a PhD to trainees who complete a mentored research dissertation as an independent investigator. MIMG has a national reputation as a premier research program. Our faculty maintain research laboratories located within the Basic Science Building, the Children's Research Institute, the Blood Research Institute, the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer Fund Center, the Max McGee National Research Center for Juvenile Diabetes, the Biotechnology and Bioengineering Center, and the Center for Infectious Disease Research.
Faculty research spans a broad range of interests including viral and bacterial infection and pathogenesis, inflammation and immunology, enzymology and metabolism, molecular genetics, and signaling and gene expression. Our faculty address questions at the cellular and molecular level, using contemporary technology and approaches where more than 30 faculty serve as graduate student research mentors. Many graduates of our program conduct postdoctoral studies and then serve as faculty at academic medical centers, or go on to become scientists in research institutes, industry, and government.
Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Departmental bacteriologists study a variety of organisms and topics, which include the identification and characterization of the delivery, trafficking and function of bacterial toxins that target key cellular processes of the eukaryotic host. Toxins under study include the botulinum and tetanus neurotoxins, and the exoY and exoU type-III effectors encoded by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. A variety of genetic, cell biological, biochemical, and structural approaches support the study of the biological functions of these toxins. Moreover, the toxins themselves and delivery machinery are components of potential vaccines. The Mycobacterium responsible for causing tuberculosis is also under study in the department, where researchers are working to identify and characterize signaling systems (such as two component systems) and key enzymes that enable the bacterium to establish latency and/or undergo reactivation where proteins are involved in the bacterial stress response.
Faculty research interests also address intrinsic antibiotic resistance in Gram-positive bacteria such as E. faecalis. One major area of study is a kinase/phosphatase system that mediates resistance to the cephalosporin family of antibiotics. Other faculty study host-pathogen interactions of spirochetes.
Departmental virologists study different research topics on members of the herpesvirus family. These topics include studies on the immune evasions encoded by human herpesvirus 6 and 7, and host/ human cytomegalovirus interactions using a combination of virology and mass spectrometry. MHV68 — a mouse pathogen similar to the KSHV and EBV viruses that infect humans — is also studied to understand the host DNA damage response and the interferon system to infection, and how these viruses cause hematological malignancies.
Departmental immunologists address various aspects of the immune system. These topics include the study of chemokines, which are chemotactic cytokines sometimes affecting the homing of various cell types to different organs. This work focuses on how the expression of chemokines and chemokine receptors affects tumor progression and metastasis. To this end, pancreatic cancer is an area of particular interest. Other studies address how the immune system combats infections by bacteria that establish granulomatous lesions, as seen in tuberculosis. These studies address the role of the cytokine IL12 and its cognate receptor. Other faculty address the role of the immune system in combating cancer, a novel immune checkpoint protein known as “Vista.”
Departmental molecular geneticists study various aspects of gene expression and fundamental cell biology. These studies focus on how differential mRNA splicing and polyadenylation regulate gene expression and modulate viral and cellular behavior. Other studies address mRNA localization, the role of localization on cell fate, and essential cellular proteins that regulate mitochondrial protein import and lipid composition.
The Immunology Program consists of a highly collaborative and integrated group of scientists from the Medical College of Wisconsin, Blood Research Institute and Children’s Research Institute whose goal is to promote immunological education and research on campus at both the basic and clinical level. As an integral part of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics the Immunology Program is composed of research laboratories focused on the immunological aspects of autoimmunity, infectious disease, allergy, immunodeficiency and cancer. Graduate research training in immunology is offered through the Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics graduate program. The Immunology Group sponsors a number of campus wide events offering additional training in immunology including a weekly journal club and Work-in-Progress. Immunology focused research seminars are available on campus through weekly Dept. of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, Blood Research Institute and the Children’s Research Institute seminar series. Now in its 9th year, the Immunology Group hosts an annual Immunology Symposium and Retreat. The Symposium highlights external speakers and is well attended by immunologists throughout southeast Wisconsin. The Retreat, which occurs the day prior to the Symposium, consists of faculty and selected trainee presentations, a poster session and opportunities for social networking followed by a poster session. Participation is campus wide with presentations by graduate students and post-doctoral clinical fellows.