Myrrh Pérez Ruiz receives American Society for Microbiology
Future Leaders Mentoring Fellowship
Myrrh Pérez Ruiz, a student within the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s (BMB) Biochemistry, Microbiology, and Molecular Biology (BMMB) graduate program, has received an American Society for Microbiology Future Leaders Mentoring Fellowship. The Fellowship is designed to support senior undergraduate, postbaccalaureate, master's and doctoral graduate students from underrepresented groups who demonstrate an interest in the microbial sciences and seek mentorship in navigating their career trajectory.
A member of the Weinert Laboratory, Ruiz conducts her research under the guidance of Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and of Chemistry, Emily Weinert. The Weinert laboratory is an interdisciplinary group focused on understanding signaling pathways that allow bacteria to sense and respond to their environment. We use tools from chemistry, biochemistry, and molecular biology to develop a molecular level understanding of the proteins and small molecules involved in these systems, as well as their role(s) in bacterial growth and virulence.
The Issue Behind the Research
Antibiotic resistance has become a significant concern as bacterial infections have caused great damage across the globe. Currently, over 2.8 million people develop hospital-acquired infections each year. These infections cost the United States specifically $20 billion dollars in additional direct healthcare expenses annually. Particularly hard to treat due to the presence of the outer membrane, increasing levels of resistance have been identified among Gram-negative strains. Identifying the proteins and pathways involved in bacterial resistance mechanisms is crucial to the development of new antibacterial agents.
The RNase I protein has been shown to regulate numerous cellular processes, such as motility, antibiotic resistance, acid sensitivity, metal homeostasis, as well as the outer membrane morphology of gram-negative bacteria. Gram-negative bacteria possess a complex cell envelope that consists of a plasma membrane, a peptidoglycan cell wall, and an outer membrane. This envelope is the first line of defense in protecting bacteria from external stressors, therefore proteins in the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria may be involved in regulating bacterial resistance mechanisms.
Ruiz’s specific research within the laboratory focuses a protein known as RNase I. Her work seeks to understand cell signaling pathways involved with the protein, elucidate the roles of other proteins it interacts with, and learn how these pathways and proteins modulate bacterial resistance to antibiotics, pH, and other environmental stresses.
Ruiz’s research has observed that cells lacking the RNase I protein exhibit a wrinkled morphology, which is also observed when the protein’s activity is inhibited. Her work has shown that inhibition of the RNase I protein is sufficient to cause outer membrane defects. Ruiz believes that clarifying the importance of the protein in cell viability and permeability, may provide new targets to increase the efficacy of existing antibiotics. Previous studies show that E. coli lacking the RNase I protein exhibit increased sensitivity to acidic conditions and decreased resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics. Because acid tolerance is crucial for colonization of the mammalian gastrointestinal tract, and beta-lactam antibiotics are among the most widely prescribed drugs to treat bacterial infections, these pathways emphasize the potential significance of the protein in microbial pathogenesis.
The Impact of the ASM Future Leaders Mentoring Fellowship on Ruiz’s graduate studies and future career?
As a result of the Fellowship, Ruiz will have the opportunity to consult with professionals who work in different sectors and gain insight into the working environment, roles, and culture. She will also be given the chance to determine whether her attributes and motivations will be a good fit for that area. “This fellowship will benefit me greatly, especially in understanding how I can apply my skills and research interests in different career sectors,” says Ruiz. “I am hoping that having an ASM mentor will provide new insights on how to grow as a microbiologist and how to choose a career path.” She also hopes to use this opportunity to expand her network within the scientific community and gain advice on how to become a scientific leader.
Post-Penn State Plans
Once she graduates from Penn State and earns her Ph. D., Ruiz is interested in expanding her skills and knowledge in bacterial signaling pathways. She would like her future to include investigating how bacterial signaling pathways can modulate resistance during infections and learning how to apply her knowledge to help guide decision-making in the public health sphere. “At this point, I’m not sure which career sector would best fit my interests,” says Ruiz. “I can see how careers ranging from biomedical research to government, can give me the opportunity to grow as a scientist.” She hopes that the guidance she will receive during her time as an ASM Fellow will help her set a more defined goal she can pursue after she finishes her time at Penn State.