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Visiting professor talks Q Fever and microbiology

Daniel E. Voth, assistant professor of microbiology and imunnology at the University of Arkansas, visited John Brown University last Monday to give a seminar to students about a pathogen known as Coxiella burnetii, which causes human Q fever. Voth partnered with Joel Funk, assistant professor of biology at John Brown, to learn more about what is causing Q fever and how it can be prevented.

Q fever is a flu-like disease caused by a bacterium that lives inside human lungs. Voth and his team are using new models to define the initial interaction between Coxiella and a human.

Q fever can cause acute or chronic illness in humans, who usually get an infection after contact with infected animals or exposure to contaminated environments, stated the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

The team is in the process of finding new insights into the complex pathogen and its host.

The project started in 2006 and since then the team has gained a better understanding of the bacteria and how it is affecting our cells.

The immune system is supposed to destroy bacteria when they get inside the body, but this particular bacterium is able to evade detection and hide inside the cells, where it reproduces, Funk said.

The team is trying to figure out what the bacteria is doing to manipulate the human cells into becoming bacteria-producing cells rather than destroying the bacteria.

Funk joined Voth and his team about a year ago after receiving the IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence grant. His role in the project is to investigate one type of enzyme signaling pathway that is found in the cell, called protein kinase c.

Voth visits two to three schools each year to give a similar seminar.

“I hope to convey the importance of intracellular pathogens in human disease and introduce [students] to a unique pulmonary pathogen,” Voth said.

Funk’s microbiology class and other science majors were present at the seminar.

Senior Tyler Awe was fascinated with what Voth spoke on concerning how he and his team extracted their information about the pathogen through post-mortem lungs.

“Using post-mortem cells and treating them with chemicals to initiate a response similar to if they were alive was very interesting,” Awe said.

The hope of the seminar was that students would gain insight into a bacterial pathogen that Funk and Voth felt was beneficial to the student’s education.

“It is a fairly rare disease, but it has a very unique cycle by living in the most hostile environment found in a cell,” Funk said.

The project is still developing and new information and insights are being discovered daily.

“The most fascinating part is learning something new every day,” Voth said. “Discovering things that nobody has seen before is what drives me as a scientist.”

The students present at the seminar were introduced into an aspect of the world of intracellular pathogens that they only knew about in their textbooks. Now, they have seen what their time in the classroom can amount to in life after college.

Through this partnership, Funk and Voth hope to finally understand the causes of Q fever and find a viable cure.