investigating how infectious pathogens interact with the gut microbiota
My undergraduate research focused on the debilitating gut pathogen Clostridium difficile, a bacterium responsible for nearly half a million cases of severe diarrhea and inflammation each year. When untreated, this infection can be lethal - and treatments range from complete removal of the colon to risky courses of antibiotic therapy that ultimately result in disease recurrence. C. difficile has attracted a great deal of attention in the news in recent years as the only disease condition for which fecal microbiota transplants are FDA-approved to treat.
But there is still much to be learned about this nefarious and robust pathogen. To better understand what conditions in the gut increase susceptibility to takeover by C. difficile, I studied how changes in gut motility (i.e., diarrhea or constipation) affected pathogen growth and the composition of the resident gut microbiota. I found that diarrhea brought on by heavy doses of polyethylene glycol (PEG, also known as Miralax), which severely disturbs the community of friendly microbes that normally populates the large intestine, concordantly facilitated C. difficile outgrowth.
understanding growth, division, and stress response in bacteria causing tuberculosis
My PhD work focused on tuberculosis, the greatest infectious killer in history. Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis, is an extremely hardy and unusual bacterium that easily acquires drug resistance and is thus challenging to treat. To better understand this pathogen and advance towards a cure, the Rubin Lab studies the ways in which Mtb grows and resists stress in its environment.
The first half of my PhD focused on how different mycobacteria—the group of bacteria that includes M. tuberculosis—assemble the complex machinery required to divide a growing cell in two. I then shifted my focus to the ways in which mycobacteria maintain and disassemble their cell wall in the face of environmental stress.
This work was conducted under the supervision of Dr. Eric Rubin, to whom I owe every ounce of patience and resilience I acquired during graduate school and who gave this amazing interview to Esquire Magazine.
awards & honors
Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (F31), NIAID, 2017
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, 2014
Joshua Lederberg Award for Academic Excellence in Human Biology, Stanford University, 2013
Phi Beta Kappa Honors Society, Stanford University, 2012
selected academic publications
Wu KJ, et al. Characterization of conserved and novel septal regulators in Mycobacterium smegmatis. J Bacteriol (2018). PubMed.
Hollingsworth LR, Veeraraghavan P, Wu KJ, et al. Speak out against tuition waiver taxes. Science (2017). PubMed.
Ferreyra JA, Wu KJ, et al. Microbiota-produced succinate promotes C. difficile infection after antibiotics or motility disturbance. Cell Host Microbe (2014). PubMed.