Welcome to the Ting Lab

Investigating the survival strategies of bacteria in multi-species environments

Our Research

Bacteria colonize every habitat on earth. They impact ecosystems in diverse ways from preventing diseases on plant roots to altering nutrient uptake rate in the human gut. The influences are dependent on the interactions between different bacterial species within the microbial communities. We seek to understand the underlying mechanisms that allow individual species of bacteria to survive and thrive in multi-species environments.

Bacteria competition mediated by the type VI secretion system

A variety of anti‐bacterial toxins are delivered into neighboring cells through a wide-spread protein translocation pathway, called the type VI secretion system (T6SS). Toxins act by different mechanisms to compromise essential cellular structures and components, resulting in the death of competing bacteria. Our lab is interested in understanding how these toxins confer toxicity once delivered into the target cells. By studying the strategies that bacteria kill one another, especially those that target conserved cellular components, previously unappreciated components critical for bacterial survival may be identified for the development of novel antibiotics.

Antagonistic defense pathways in Gram-negative bacteria

As long as bacteria live in the community, they have to cope with the threat posed by competing bacteria. These attacks range from anti-microbial chemicals to secreted protein toxins. This evolutionary pressure has undoubtedly led to the diverse defend pathways that could provide resistance to antagonistic competitors. Our ongoing efforts in this area include studying uncharacterized and novel mechanisms by which bacteria defend against interbacterial antagonism.

Development of novel technology to deplete specified target from microbiota

Traditional broad-spectrum antibacterial approaches have side effects to disrupt the beneficial microbiota in complex communities indiscriminately. This problem has led to the development of antimicrobials that can selectively target individual species or strains of bacteria. In recent work, we and others have developed programmable inhibitor cells (PICs) that direct the potent antibacterial activity of the T6SS against specified target cells. By introducing nanobodies on the surface of PICs to generate antigen-specific cell-cell adhesion, we could direct T6SS to efficiently deplete target cells in a multispecies environment without off-target activity. We aim to generalize the approach to better study ecological interactions in complex communities and the effects of dysbiosis.

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