The focus of my lab is the structure and assembly of viruses, bacteriophages and prokaryotic cells. These systems are studied with an array of structural and biophysical techniques, in particular cryo-electron microscopy (EM) and three-dimensional reconstruction, and X-ray crystallography. Among the projects that we work on are bacteriophages of Staphylococcus aureus, the porcine arterivirus PRRSV and prokaryotic cells like Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of anthrax.
S. aureus carries genes for numerous toxins (including TSST-1, the toxic shock syndrome toxin) on so-called "pathogenicity islands" (SaPIs) in their genomes. Normally stable, these SaPIs get mobilized by infection with specific phages, allowing spread of the pathogenicity factors through the population. We are interested in this multi-step mobilization process, which includes de-repression, excision, capsid assembly and DNA packaging. This system is studied with a multi-faceted approach that includes structure determination as well as mass spectrometry and biochemical analysis.
Another project in the lab involves the structure and assembly of PRRSV, an important porcine pathogen that is a member of the Arteriviridae family of enveloped (+)RNA viruses. By combining X-ray crystallographic or NMR structures of individual proteins with overall structures obtained by electron tomography, a description of the whole virion structure can be obtained.
We also study prokaryotic ultrastructure by electron tomography of whole and cryo-sectioned cells. In particular, we are interested in structure and assembly of the B. anthracis exosporium, an important pathogenicity determinant in this system.
Terje Dokland (b. 1963), Associate Professor of Microbiology, received his Ph.D. from the University of Oslo, Norway on a joint program with the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, in 1993. His Ph.D. work involved cryo-electron microscopy and 3D reconstruction on the bacteriophages P2, P4 and lambda, and was done with Dr. Stephen D. Fuller at EMBL and Björn H. Lindqvist at the University of Oslo. From 1994-1998 he carried out postdoctoral studies with Dr. Michael G. Rossmann at Purdue University where he continued his studies on bacteriophage assembly using X-ray crystallographic methods. In 1998, Dr. Dokland took up a position as senior scientist at the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology (formerly Institute of Molecular Agrobiology) in Singapore, where he set up a structural biology laboratory, including facilities for X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy. He remained in Singapore until April 2004, when he joined the faculty in the Department of Microbiology at UAB. His outside interests include mountain biking, scuba diving, electric guitars, wine and international cooking.