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Life Sciences & Bioengineering Center, 4013
Phone: +1-508-831-6120
Fax: +1-508-831-5936
rpr@wpi.edu

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Reeta Prusty Rao

My research program focuses on understanding and managing fungal diseases. We primarily study Candida albicans, an opportunistic pathogen and the most prevalent fungal pathogen of humans. It is responsible for common clinical problems including oral thrush and vaginitis, but can also lead to life-threatening systematic infections in immunocompromised individuals such as AIDS patients, resulting in 30-50% mortality rates. The estimated annual cost of treating nosocomial Candida infections exceeds $1 billion per year.

We have developed an in vivo infection system using Caenorhabditis elegans as a model host that monitors the entire disease process from initial colonoziation to death. Facets of the innate immune response, which serves as the primary line of defense against fungal pathogens, is conserved between C. elegans and humans. Our efforts are focused on understanding how genomic and genetic changes affect phenotypes that contribute to fitness. These beneficial alterations can be fixed in the population and drive evolution of a benign commensal to a deadly pathogen. We have already applied our versatile assay to: identify novel virulence factors; uncover host defense mechanisms; and identify small molecules with antifungal properties.

In the classroom I facilitate learning by relating course content to the global impact of Biology. I am engaged in the curriculum at all instructional levels from Intro to Biology to Advanced Molecular Genetics, and use of model experimental systems at the graduate level. I enjoy mentoring and working with doctoral, master, and undergraduate students in the lab where we employ a myriad of molecular, genetic, genomic, biochemical approaches to understand fungal pathogenesis.

Research Interests

  • FUNGAL PATHOGENESIS - Fungal virulence factors, Host immune system modifies, Secondary metabolite signals in pathogenesis
  • THERAPEUTICS - High throughput drug screens (in collaboration with U Mass Medical and Broad Institute)
  • BIOFUELS - Bio-butanol from cellulosic feedstock

Education

  • Birla Institute of Technology and Science, India - Pharmacy B.S., 1991
  • Drexel University, Philadelphia Environmental - Science MS., 1992
  • Drexel University, Philadelphia - Bioscience & Biotechnology MS., 1994
  • Penn State University, Medical Center, Hershey - Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Ph.D., 1999
  • Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Cambridge - Molecular Genetics and Fungal Pathogenesis, Postdoctoral 2005

 


Featured Publications

  • Prusty Rao R, Hunter A, Kashpur O and Normanly J (2010) Aberrant synthesis of Indole-3-acetic acid in Saccharomyces cerevisiae triggers morphogenic transition, a virulence trait of pathogenic fungi.  Genetics 185 (1):  211-220.
    Featured in the highlights section of the journal.
    Featured in faculty of 1000 ‘must read papers’
  • Dufour N & Rao RP Secondary metabolites and other small molecules as intercellular pathogenic signals. FEMS Microbiol Lett (2011) 314: 10-17.
  • Charu, J, Yun M, Politz S. M, Rao RP. (2008) A Patho-assay using S.cerevisiae and C.elegans reveals novel roles for yeast AP-1, Yap1 and host dual oxidase BLI-3 in fungal pathogenesis. Eukaryotic Cell. 8 (8) 1218-1227.
    Featured in the Science highlights of the NECN Cable News network.
  • Prusty R, Grisafi P, Fink GR.  (2004) The plant hormone, Indole acetic acid, induces invasive growth in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Science USA, 101(12):  4153-4157.
    Featured in faculty of 1000 ‘must read papers’
  • Defossez P, Prusty R, Kaeberlein M, Lin S, Ferrigno P, Silver PA, Keil RL, Guarente L. (1999).  Elimination of yeast replication block protein Fob1p extends the life span of mother cells.  Molecular Cell, 3: 447-455. 
    Fetured in News and Views in Nature Genetics, May 1999, 22: 4-6.
 
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