The major focus of the Vornhagen Lab is to understand how bacterial pathogens colonize the gut, especially in the context of a healthy microbiome. Our mission is to enact cutting-edge research while providing an inclusive environment that wholistically trains the next generation of scientists. The vision of the Vornhagen Lab is to positively impact our local and broader community through scientific discovery, advocacy, and outreach.
The last 50 years of bacterial pathogenesis research have resulted in significant advances in our understanding of the molecular factors necessary to establish a productive infection. Unfortunately, these advancements have yet to address a critical step in pathogenesis: colonization. Colonization, or the presence of a bacterium on a non-sterile site such as the gut, is often the first step in an infection. Humans are exposed to millions of organisms with pathogenic potential every day, yet we manage to live most of our lives in good health. This apparent paradox suggests a strong interaction between patient and bacterial factors that determine if exposure to a pathogen results in infection, asymptomatic colonization, or clearance. Despite its complexity, an understanding of host-pathogen interaction is critical for the development of novel diagnostics and interventions to refine clinical practice. To this end, the Vornhagen Lab studies how bacterial pathogens colonize the gut.