The Franklin College’s Department of Microbiology recently hired two senior faculty members, both of whom bring an impressive record of research and teaching to UGA.
Jorge C. Escalante-Semerena comes to UGA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his work focuses on a number of areas that impact human health. Among his interests are the use of vitamin B12 derivatives for cancer therapy and the modification of bacterial proteins to study aging.
“Given his expertise in bacteria from the human gut, he will greatly strengthen the microbiology components of the obesity and infectious disease initiatives at UGA,” said microbiology Professor and former Department Head Willam “Barny” Whitman. “We anticipate strong collaborations with researchers in the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center, the department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Chemistry, as well as potential collaborations with departments such as Animal and Dairy Sciences, Crop and Soil Sciences, and Infectious Diseases.”
Escalante-Semerena is the recipient of an NIH MERIT award, which will provide continuous support for his research until 2020. These awards are exceptionally rare and awarded to less than 5% of NIH funded investigators. They are highly prized, even in the country's top-ranked medical schools, because they represent an unusual level of trust in the investigator by the agency.
Diana M. Downs, who also comes to UGA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is one of the world’s experts on the biosynthesis of the vitamin thiamine and metabolic stress in prokaryotes, among the simplest of organisms. With more than 72 refereed research publications and nine invited reviews, she leads a research program which has been well-funded by both the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
“Dr. Downs is an exceptional bacterial physiologist with an unusual knack for connecting dots to identify the bigger-picture implications,” Whitman said. “In addition to its contributions to our fundamental understanding of how bacteria work, her work has many applications in the development of new strategies for antimicrobial intervention. In this way, Dr. Downs will be an important addition to the University of Georgia’s current strengths in Salmonella, Shigella, and Helicobacter research, extending to the Center for Drug Discovery, the Center for Food Safety, and the Poultry Diagnostic and Research Center.”
Dr. Downs is also a passionate teacher and has received teaching awards at both the undergraduate and graduate level. In addition to mentoring 15 doctoral students, she has also supervised the research of 14 master students, eight high school students, and over 60 University of Wisconsin undergraduates.