Current Research Projects

1. Polyphenol-mediated Inhibition of Staphylococcal biofilm formation – The majority of bacterial infections are caused by biofilm-forming microbes.  Since biofilms contribute to virulence, disease persistence and drug resistance, there is urgent need for anti-infection strategies directed at biofilm-forming pathogens.  Our work examines the mechanisms by which polyphenolic compounds, commonly derived from terrestrial and marine natural sources, to impair biofilm formation by Staphylococcus epidermidis and Staphylococcus aureus, two leading causes of biofilm-associated nosocomial infections.  

2. Food safety of edible seaweed – The production and harvest of edible seaweed is the fastest-growing sector of the Maine aquaculture industry.  However, since seaweed aquaculture is a relatively new industry in the U.S, there are no current guidelines for how seaweed should be handled and processed to minimize potential food safety risk.  The Burkholder lab is collaborating with the Byron lab [KB1] in the UNE School of Marine and Environmental Programs to study the effect of post-harvest storage temperature and drying method on viability of bacterial pathogens associated with edible seaweed such as sugar kelp.  This project is supported by an award from the Maine SeaGrant.

3. Microplastics as vectors for pathogen contamination of marine foods –  Plastics are ubiquitous pollutants of marine environments.  Of greatest concern are microplastics (MP), which are particles < 5 mm, that can be ingested by marine organisms and are abundant within aquatic food webs,   Given that microbial biofilms are found on ocean-derived MP, we speculate that pathogen transfer from MP to ingesting aquatic organisms may occur.  Our lab is examining the role of MP in mediating pathogen entry and retention in important marine organisms used for human consumption. 

Bacterial-associated microplastic fiber (MPF).  Red fluorescent MPFs were generated in the laboratory and incubated with GFP-expressing E. coli.  This image shows MPFs with a coating of GFP-bacteria.