Published: March 5, 2010

Faculty conversations: Chris Waters

Contact(s): Brian Vernellis University Relations student writer office: (517) 355-2281 brian.vernellis@ur.msu.edu

Chris Waters’ research of bacteria biofilm may help the medical field battle infections. Waters, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, has made gains in understanding how bacteria defend themselves.

When bacteria find a surface, it begins to secrete a substance that produces a protective barrier from predators. Under this barrier, bacteria gather to form biofilm. Waters’ research focuses on how biofilm forms in bacterial pathogens and how they are involved in diseases.

“The National Institutes of Health has estimated that 80 percent of all bacterial infections rely on biofilms to one extent or another,” Waters said. “So it’s a really big medical problem.”

There are two problems when solving the biofilm problem – one, the immune system can’t clear bacteria out because of the protective layer and, two, antibiotics aren’t as effective as they once were against biofilm. But, Waters’ research has discovered a way to block the enzyme in bacteria that signals the production of biofilm.

“We think that these could be really interesting therapeutics because the vast majority of bacteria have this signaling system, and the enzymes all work the same way,” Waters said.

“So if you can inhibit the enzyme in one pathogen, it will work in another. This could be a broad spectrum kind of approach.”

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