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Jonathan Dennis, PhD



Biological Sciences


The Burkholderia cepacia complex (Bcc) is a group of important opportunistic pathogenic bacteria that are responsible for causing devastating infections, numerous epidemics, and a significant amount of mortality, particularly in patients with Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and Chronic Granulomatous Disease. In CF, it can produce a rapidly fatal septicemia termed "cepacia syndrome". Due to the remarkable metabolic capabilities and relatively large, complex genome of this microorganism, B. cepacia strains exhibit tremendous antibiotic resistance. This extreme multidrug resistance has led to a lack of effective antimicrobial therapy. Using genetic and genomic approaches, we are attempting to identify and characterize potential virulence factors and virulence factor genes that are involved in the antibiotic resistance and pathogenesis of the B. cepacia complex.

Because extreme drug resistant (XDR) bacteria such as members of the Bcc are able to withstand treatment with almost all known classes of chemical antibiotics, alternative therapeutic strategies are desperately needed. We are developing the use of bacteriophages (or phages) for the treatment of members of the Bcc. We are also investigating the potential use of "phage therapy" for the treatment of other XDR bacteria. Although the idea of using bacterial viruses to kill pathogenic bacteria has been around for many years, its potential use has only now become more urgent with the recent upswing in extreme antibiotic resistant bacteria, and the lack of new effective chemical antibiotics. The use of phages to treat bacteria has been demonstrated to be safe, highly specific, and effective, both in vitro and in vivo. My lab has extensive experience and expertise in phage isolation from multiple sources, phage characterization (including phage biology, genomic and genetic characterization, and electron microscopy), and phage therapy (including cocktail compilation, animal model development, and modes of delivery, specializing in aerosolization). We are working towards discovering methods to cure patients with XDR bacterial infections utilizing phage therapy, and improving phage therapy efficacy through the development of modified or enhanced phages, using advanced molecular genetics and synthetic biology.