Asim K. Bej, Ph.D.

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Professor

Address:
1300 University Blvd.
CH 251
Birmingham, AL 35294-1170

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The research interest in my laboratory is the use of molecular approaches to study gene expression and regulation in prokaryotes. Currently we are pursuing, but are not limited to, the following areas of investigation.

Rapid detection of microbial pathogens using nucleic acid- or peptide-based technologies is a fast-growing area in microbiology, used effectively for the protection of human health. Our research in this area includes the development of real-time PCR for identification of microbial pathogens, primarily Vibrio spp. in food and water samples, offering a better means for early and accurate assessment for the presence of these pathogens, leading to the reduction of disease incidence and outbreaks. As part of the quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR) project, an Internal Amplification Control (IAC) targeting candidate genes from microbial pathogens is being developed. In addition to the qPCR, we are utilizing phage-displayed peptide technology for identification of novel peptides to be used as biosensors for "intact cell" detection, identification of reactive cell-surface proteins and their immunogenicity. For the detection of multiple microbial pathogens, we are using an oligonucleotide microarray targeting species-specific as well as pathogenic determinant genes. Our current goal is to develop a portable microarray system that would enable users to perform diagnostic tests in the field environment.

Microbial community composition and their adaptation to Antarctic cold and subzero temperature environments is a research interest in my laboratory. To address this area of investigation, we are developing qPCR to study biodegradative microbial communities in Antarctic soils targeting gyrB and rpoB. In addition, structure, expression and regulation of "cold-adaptive" or "antifreeze" proteins in biodegradative Antarctic psychrotolerant microorganisms are currently being investigated.

As an extension of this research investigation, we have been engineering biodegradative microorganisms (GEMs) with built-in self-destruct (conditional lethal) genetic cassettes as an effective containment system for these GEMs. Bacterial lethal genes and their "protective" counterparts are cloned in genetic cassettes under the control of biodegradative promoter-regulatory DNA segments. These genetic cassettes are then placed in biodegradative microorganisms as an active containment system. These GEMs survive and convert hydrocarbon compounds to relatively non-harmful products. Following degradation of the hydrocarbon compounds, these microorganisms undergo self-destruction. This model is being tested in Antarctic psychrotolerant biodegradative microorganisms in the laboratory set-up with the objective that these GEMs can be used for bioremediation without causing any adverse effects on the environment.

Education:Ph. D. (Molecular Genetics), 1988, University of Louisville