Reeta Rao, PhD, associate professor of biology and biotechnology at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), has been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, the honorific leadership group within the American Society for Microbiology. Fellows, all eminent leaders in the field of microbiology, are elected annually through a highly selective, peer-review process, based on their records of scientific achievement and exceptional contributions to the advancement of microbiology.
In her research, Rao studies the biology of fungal diseases, particularly those caused by Candida, a species of fungi prevalent in humans that are responsible for oral thrush, ear infections, and vaginitis. The microorganism can also cause systemic infections in immunocompromised individuals and is a leading cause of serious illnesses and death among hospitalized patients. These life-threatening infections have a 30–50 percent mortality rate, which is likely related to the growing antimicrobial resistance in fungal pathogens. Treating the infections costs more than $1 billion annually.