My research program is divided into several areas. Two areas of focus pertain to the study of cellular devlopment in the pathogenic fungi, Penicillium marneffei and Wangiella dermatitidis, as it relates to the ability of these microbes to cause disease in humans and animals. Aspects of both projects involve collaborations with investigators at other institutions. A third collaborative project carrried out in part in my laboratory is the identification of proteins and their cognate genes in the metabolism of p-cresol by the bacterium Thauera aromatica. Brief summaries regarding each of these three main projects are provided below.
Proteomics of Phase Transition in Penicillium marneffei. I have been interested in this peculiar fungus for a number of years. Penicillium marneffei was originally “discovered” in 1955 during a series of experiments involving bamboo rats at the Pasteur Institute in South Vietnam. The experiments failed because the rats died from a fulminant fungal infection. When isolated, the fungus grew as a mould belonging to the genus Penicillium. However, only single-celled yeasts were noted in dissected rat tissue. These observations presented a conundrum since, at the time, it was believed that Penicillium species were non-pathogens and existed solely as multicellular, filamentous organisms. None were known to exhibit vegetative dimorphic behavior, i.e., to grow in two or more stable asexual morphologies. Subsequently, the mycologist Gabriel Segretain determined that the mould in question, later named by him as P. marneffei, was indeed a dimorphic species of Penicillium and that incubation temperature alone was a factor that induced dimorphism in this fungus. Still, between the years 1955 and 1983, P. marneffei remained a mycological curiosity. Then in 1984, P. marneffei emerged as a pathogen of individuals living in Southeast Asia and exhibiting acquired immunodefiency syndrome (AIDS). For yet unknown reasons, this fungus continues to be an endemic pathogen of pre-dominantly immune deficient individuals and is restricted almost exclusively to this region of the world.
Research in my laboratory with P. marneffei is focused on the discovery of those molecular mechansims involved in both virulence and mrophogene
The Darkly-Pigmented Fungus Wangiella dermatitidis as a Model for Morphogenesis. Wangiella dermatitidis is a black (darkly pigmented) fungus capable of causing an infectious disease termed phaeohyphomycosis. This fungus also exhibits the unique property of being polymorphic, i.e., it can grow in one of three different morphologies. The three morphologies include i) a single-celled, yeast that grows by a process termed budding, ii) a filamentous form that grows in a unidirectional (apical) fashion, and iii) a multicellular morphology that develops by swelling outward (isotropically) and forming internal partitions (septa) (Fig. 1). Interestingly, the latter isotropic morphology strongly resembles a muriform, or “sclerotic”, cell that is characteristic of the tissue form of the disease chromoblastomycosis. Other black fungi closely related to W. dermatitidis cause this infectious disease.
p-Cresol Degredation by Thauera aromatica. This project, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Peter Coschigano at Ohio Univeristy, seeks to characterize the microbial metabolism of p-cresol metabolism by the denitrifying bacterium Thauera aromatica. p-cresol is an important evironmental contaminant. The ability of T. aromatica to catabolize the structurally related compound, toluene, has been well characterized. In other microbes, similarities exist in the metabolic pathways of toluene and p-cresol catabolism in which both are converted to benzoate. However, different enzymes (and their corresponding genes) are responsible for these reactions. We hypothesize that p-cresol metabolism in T. aromatica involves a series of distinct genetic elements and their proteinaceous products. We are testing this hypothesis by using a proteomic approach to identify proteins from T. aromatica strain that are differentially expressed when cells are grown on p-cresol. Ultimately, we wish to characterize the T. aromatica genes that encode the proteins associated with p-cresol metabolism.
Other Collaborative Research Projects. My laboratory has established research-related relationships with a number of individual from different institutions. Such collaborations include the following:
Dr. Christine Weingart, Denison University (Ohio) - Proteomic aspects of salt tolerance in Burkholderia cepacia
Teaching Philosophy. My teaching philosophy is derived from my firm belief that students need to be active thinkers and synthesizers of information. Other than fundamental information, I believe that teaching rote facts and figures is a disservice to both students and the educational institution. While students in an introductory course should not be expected to “run before learning to walk”, they should nonetheless be challenged to independently derive conclusions from basic information. By comparison, we should expect our more advanced students to exercise greater independence of thought and to convey their ideas through outstanding communication skills. The latter should be exhibited in both oral and written presentations. I believe it is incumbent upon faculty to help students derive the abilities to write and speak in a professional, authoritative manner.
In the classroom, I attempt to implement this philosophy by creating an educational environment conducive to learning. I try to establish a positive relationship with students so that the classroom remains a non-judgmental haven, open to opposing views, and full of active participants. Hopefully, I display my genuine enthusiasm for both teaching and the subject matter, thereby making students more comfortable and facilitating involvement in their own education.
Current Teaching Responsbilities. As a faculty member in the Molecular Biology and Microbiology Division of the YSU Department of Biological Sciences, my primary teaching responsidbilities are in the general field of microbiology. In recent years, I have been the primary faculty member teaching Microbiology (BIOL 3702) and the accompanying laboratory (BIOL 3702L). I have also taught Medical Mycology (BIOL 4849) as well as both undergraduate and graduate sections of Biology of Fungi (BIOL 4848 and BIOL 6948, respectively). Finally, scores of undergraduates have participated in research projects under my tutelage in Problems in Biology: Microbiolgy (BIOL 4850K). Brief descriptions of these courses, taken from the YSU course catalogs (2006-2007 version of the YSU Undergraduate Bulletin) are provided below as are links to the appropriate course web pages.
Future Courses. In the near future, I will offer sections in the new undergraduate course Molecular Microbiology I: Nucleic Acids (BIOL 3716) in addition to the graduate-level course Cellular and Molecular Mycology (BIOL 6949).
Information Coming Soon
The following contains a number of web page links to research and teaching related sites as well as those of particular interest to Dr. Cooper. These links were correct when posted to this page, but may have changed since then. If you discover a broken or inaccurate link, please notify Dr. Cooper by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Also, contact Dr. Cooper if you have a link that you would like to be considered for inclusion among those on this list.