Everybody has to make themselves fit into the system. Nobody came to me and said, ‘Hey Michael, do this and you’ll be an integrated scholar.’ You just do what’s important to you. You try to do it well. You try to make yourself available to people.
Fungal-Host Interactions: We are studying the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis that has been implicated in the global decline of amphibians. Our particular interests are in studying essential components of early events of the fungal-frog interaction. Components of the chytrid virulence arsenal and how it survives in the absence of its host are of great interest. We have identified several proteases produced by the fungus and are also studying fungal developmental transitions (from motile zoospore to a reproductive walled sporangium) in pathogenic and free-living contexts. We are also interested in biofilm formation of the fungus and its implications to survival and toxin resistance.
We have active collaborations studying the frog skin microbiome and are developing tools to further molecular biological studies of this fungus. Why is all this important? In order to control the spread of the fungus we have to understand how it works and this information will allow us to develop tools to combat the pathogen.
Bacterial-Host Interactions: We are currently studying the plant pathogen Erwinia chrysanthemi that infects a wide variety of plants and plant products. We are interested in the molecular basis of the early events in the microbe-plant interaction, specifically how the bacterium recognizes the plant environment and what strategies the bacterium uses to defend itself against toxic plant chemicals. During plant infections, signaling molecules of plant origin are mobilized to amplify plant defense processes. We are interested in how this bacterial pathogen co-opts these molecules to up-regulate efflux pump gene expression. Efflux pumps in bacteria play an important role in resistance to antimicrobial agents. These studies will help us understand how the bacterium "interprets" chemical signals from the plant and enhances expression of genes that encode efflux pumps resulting in multi drug resistance and survival in the plant.
Research projects in our laboratory use physiological, biochemical, molecular and bioinformatics approaches to study microbial gene expression, transport across bacterial membranes and regulation of genes encoding transport protein components. We have completed a collaborative project with an international group of scientists to sequence the genome of Erwinia and decode its potential.
We strive to find answers to questions related to animal and plant health. Most of our resources are currently directed towards understanding the pathogen that has been largely responsible for the massive decline in amphibians globally. Indeed it has been noted that “the impact of chytridiomycosis on frogs is the most spectacular loss of biodiversity due to disease in recorded history” (Skerratt et al., 2007). Our goal is to identify the Achilles heel of the pathogen to allow us to control its spread.
From the world around me, my family, friends and students.
I have been involved with many different service projects—those with many student organizations and over the long haul those related to science fair projects over the past 20 years. Starting in 1990 as a judge for the South Plains Regional Science and Engineering Fair, I have for over a decade served as a the scientific review administrator and more recently as the chairman of the board. I have coached soccer at many levels most recently completed a decade-long stint with the TTU Women’s Soccer Club. I hold a soccer referee’s and coach’s licenses as well.
I am still involved with the South Plains Regional Science and Engineering Fair. Our annual fair showcases the work of 4-12 grade research from schools near and far-Olton, O’Donnell, Lubbock, Amarillo to name a few. We average about 500 posters each year.
There is no cookie-cutter answer. Everybody has to find their way to fit into the system. Do what's important to you, (something you are passionate about) and try to do it well. Try to make yourself available to other people. Make yourself meaningful. Be kind and graceful. Never take yourself too seriously.