Department of Molecular and Cell Biology

School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics

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UTD Scientist Wins $2.1 Million in Grants To Study Communication Among Bacteria

Research by Dr. Juan González Could Lead to Medical Advances

RICHARDSON, Texas (July 18, 2005) – A scientist at The University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) has won federal funding of $2.1 million for studies of how bacterial cells communicate with each other – fundamental research that could lead to the development of new methods to halt the spread of deadly infectious diseases.

Dr. Juan E. González, associate professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UTD, received monies from two federal agencies – a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant in the amount of $1.5 million over five years and a National Science Foundation (NSF) award for $600,000 over three years.

“When bacteria invade a host, they are capable of doing something remarkable – coordinating their behavior, which allows them to act as a group,” said González, who also serves as associate dean for graduate studies for UTD’s School of Natural Sciences & Mathematics. “This is achieved through cell-to-cell communication, or signaling. If we can understand precisely how bacteria communicate, we theoretically could control and manipulate such organisms, including blocking pathogens from multiplying or, conversely, promoting the growth of beneficial microorganisms.”

According to González, bacteria are known to communicate by chemical means – one cell excretes a chemical while others sense and respond to it. The ability of bacteria to communicate and coordinate behavior is known as “quorum sensing.”

González’s grant from the NIH will fund research of ‘autoinducers” – signaling molecules that enable bacterial cells to act in a coordinated fashion to overcome the defenses of a host. His NSF grant will permit the study of a different type of bacterially produced signal molecules, exopolysaccarides, which can facilitate bacterial invasion of a host and increase the chances of bacterial survival in a hostile environment.

González conducts his research in a laboratory on UTD’s campus, where he is assisted in his studies by four undergraduate and seven graduate students. He also teaches courses at the university in “Molecular Biology,” “Medical Microbiology,” “Parasites and Symbionts” and “Global Epidemics.”

González joined UTD in 1996 as an assistant professor and was appointed associate professor in 2002. He earned a B.S. degree in microbiology and public health from Michigan State University and a Ph.D. degree in microbiology and molecular genetics from the University of California, Los Angeles. González was a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

  • Updated: February 6, 2006