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The American Society for Microbiology honors Alison Criss

Alison K. Criss, Ph.D., University of Virginia, Charlottesville, has been chosen by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) to receive a 2011 ICAAC Young Investigator Award for her outstanding research on bacterial pathogenesis. Sponsored by Merck, U.S. Human Health Division, this award recognizes an early career scientist for research excellence in microbiology and infectious diseases.

Dr. Criss received her Ph.D. from Harvard University and completed her postdoctoral fellowship at Northwestern University. She was nominated by her postdoctoral advisor, H. Steven Seifert, Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, who describes Dr. Criss as an "extremely intelligent, insightful, diligent, meticulous, hard working person who tackles problems head-on."

Dr. Criss is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Virginia, where she studies the interactions of Neisseria gonorrhoeae with PMNs in her laboratory at the University of Virginia. A supporter of her nomination, Joanna Goldberg, Academy Fellow from the University of Virginia, describes Dr. Criss as "truly a rising young star [who] has a very professional and enthusiastic manner that serves to engage and inspire students to perform at the best of their ability."

Dr. Criss' research focuses on the interplay between bacterial pathogens and host cells at mucosal surfaces. Her graduate work explored the regulation of Salmonella pathogenesis by Rho and ARF family GTPases in polarized epithelial cells. As a postdoctoral fellow at Northwestern, Dr. Criss investigated the robust mechanisms by which N. gonorrhoeae avoids immune recognition and clearance. N. gonorrhoeae evades humoral immunity by varying its surface components, including antigenic variation of the type IV pilus. She used high-throughput DNA sequencing to show that pilin antigenic variation occurs at the highest frequency of any known pathogenic gene conversion system and produces a diverse repertoire of pilin proteins, as observed during human disease. N. gonorrhoeae also survives exposure to neutrophils in gonorrheal secretions, for reasons that are poorly understood. Using a primary human neutrophil infection model, Dr. Criss demonstrated that N. gonorrhoeae suppresses neutrophil production of reactive oxidative species and encodes gene products that confer resistance to neutrophils' non-oxidative antimicrobial activities. Her laboratory at the University of Virginia is elucidating the molecular and cellular interactions between N. gonorrhoeae and neutrophils, with the goals of identifying the antimicrobial activities neutrophils direct against N. gonorrhoeae and the bacterial defenses that subvert them.

William Shafer, Academy Fellow from Emory University and supporter of Dr. Criss' nomination, says "I have been most favorably impressed by the rigor that Dr. Criss applies to her work, the depth of her thought processes, and her willingness to freely exchange ideas and reagents She has performed the most convincing (and elegant) work to date that shows N. gonorrhoeae can resist intraleukocytic killing by human PMNs."


Contact: Garth Hogan
American Society for Microbiology

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