Small Molecules Can Tell Big Stories: Using Volatiles to Rapidly Diagnose Infectious Agents

Jane Hill, School of Engineering and COBRE: Immunology and Infectious Diseases, University of Vermont

Friday, February 17, 2012, 3:30pm

Spanos Auditorium

This seminar is part of the Jones Seminars on Science, Technology, and Society series.

Pasteur is attributed with stating that “the role of the infinitely small in nature is infinitely large.” This sentiment still rings true for bacteria and other microorganisms. Our ability to understand their ecology and impact on humans is, however, hindered by our use of microbiological technologies created during the time of Pasteur and Koch. Indeed, it generally still takes days to diagnose bacterial contamination or infection. To help move diagnostic microbiology into the 21st century, we develop and employ technologies to rapidly identify the metabolic status of bacterial pathogens, which in turn has applications in health as well as defense, agriculture, and environment systems. In less than one minute, we can determine the genus, species, and in a variety of cases, the strain or serovar, of high interest pathogens, such as E. coli O157:H7, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Legionella, and Salmonella; from the flask to food to human breath. Our ongoing work shows the beauty and utility of melding microbiology and analytical chemistry with an engineering sensibility in order to tackle outstanding questions in the health, defense, agricultural, and environmental fields.

About the Speaker

Dr. Jane Hill grew up in rural Australia and moved to the U.S. to complete a B.S. and M.S. from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. After forming and running a small environmental engineering consulting company for several years, she returned to university to obtain a Ph.D. at Yale in the area of organophosphorus compound cycling in soils. Following a post-doctoral project at Yale in biotechnology, Jane started at the University of Vermont in 2007, where she now focuses on:

  1. Fundamental and applied metabolomics: from immune system response to bacterial metabolites to using the metabolites to develop new clinical diagnostic tools
  2. Transformation of organophosphorus by bacteria and plants
  3. Prediction and implications of bacterial motility on transport under laminar flow