Faculty and Research
Heitman Lab Members
I worked in the Heitman lab while I was a senior at Duke University majoring in biology. I worked with Dr. Kirsten Nielsen to further define the ecological niche of Cryptococcus neoformans. C. neoformans exists in two varieties - grubii (serotype A) and neoformans (serotype D), and is commonly isolated from pigeon guano and normally affects immunocompromised individuals. By contrast, Cryptococcus gattii can infect immuncompetent individuals, and has been traditionally associated with other environments, including eucalyptus trees. Our work showed that pigeon guano can support the growth of C. neoformans and C. gattii, and that a brown pigment related to melanin, a key virulence factor, is produced by both species when grown on pigeon guano. C. neoformans, however, can also mate on pigeon guano, while C. gattii mating is dramatically reduced. The fact that C. neoformans is able to survive and reproduce on pigeon guano makes this environment a good candidate for the realized niche of C. neoformans, the environment to which an organism is most highly adapted. Further investigation involved a more detailed investigation of these mating differences in C. neoformans and C. gattii.
I am currently working on a communication plan for a diabetes/obesity drug at the Bristol-Meyers Squibb pharmaceutical company in New Jersey.
In 2003, I was the Aventis International Biogeneius Challenge Winner. You may be interested to read my testimonial at: http://www.biotechinstitute.org/programs/testimonials_obaldia.html
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