The Shank laboratory studies the chemical and physical interactions
of microbes with each other and their hosts
Microbes live everywhere, and their activities can have profound impacts on their hosts as well as on ecosystem‐level processes. How microbes interact within these communities, however, remains largely unknown. We are fascinated by the idea that microbes are able to generate and secrete chemical cues (known as specialized or secondary metabolites) that can act as interspecies signals to influence the physiology and metabolism of their microbial neighbors, and thus contribute to the stability and functioning of complex microbial communities.
Our research dissects these microbial interactions using traditional microbiology, fluorescent co-culture, bioinformatics, mass spectrometry imaging, and native-like microcosms. We aim to define the molecular basis of how microbial specialized metabolites impact bacterial cellular differentiation, discover chemical tools to kill and modulate pathogens, and dynamically visualize microbial interactions at the single-cell level. In doing so, we are gaining insights into microbial ecology. We are also identifying novel bioactive compounds as potential therapeutics and chemical tools to achieve our long-term goal of manipulating microbial communities to improve host health and the environment.