UTSA Microbiologist Karl Klose Teaches Bacterial Genetics in Chile

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Classroom in Chile

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(Sept. 18, 2012)--In August, UTSA microbiologist Karl Klose traveled to Valparaíso, Chile, to teach students at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaiso (PUCV)’s Institute of Biology how to genetically manipulate and dissect bacterial pathogens. The training will enhance the students’ study of the pathogenesis and environmental persistence of related bacteria and will ultimately position them to help protect the Chilean salmon industry.

This year, Chile is expected to produce 700,000 tons of salmon. Despite the industry’s significant growth since the mid-1970s, disease outbreaks such as those caused by the bacterium Piscirickettsia salmonis continue to threaten the industry, resulting in significant economic losses. At PUCV, scholars are conducting research focusing on ways to prevent infectious agents from causing diseases in salmon. Like UTSA, PUCV students are highly involved in the research as part of their training.

Klose received a South American Visiting Professorship from the American Society for Microbiology that allowed him to teach a short course in bacterial genetics to 21 students from PUCV and surrounding universities in Temuco and Concepcion. The goal was to help students become proficient in basic techniques that can be applied to bacteria that affect salmon. While there, Klose used the bacterium Vibrio cholerae as a teaching model, an ideal choice because not only is it the cause of the human disease cholera, it is also a marine bacterium related to the bacteria many PUCV scholars are already studying.

Each day, Klose provided a 90-minute lecture followed by a six-hour laboratory session allowing the students to practice the techniques they learned. The syllabus addressed gene disruption, motility and flagellar genes, virulence factor expression and biofilm formation. At the end of the course, Klose taught the students how to adapt the techniques to other bacteria.

Klose believes the partnership will stimulate new types of research at PUCV. The techniques Klose taught the students will be continued in individual laboratories at PUCV. Klose and his Chilean host, Sergio Marshall Gonzalez, also expect to collaborate on microbiology research that would result in funding from the Chilean government and a series of peer-reviewed publications.

“The Chilean economy is extremely dependent on salmon exports, but the industry continues to be challenged by different types of infectious diseases,” said Klose. “By teaching students at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Valparaiso the most updated ways to manipulate bacteria, they are equipped to study the infectious agents that affect salmon, and ultimately develop novel vaccines and therapeutics to help protect the salmon industry.”

Klose is a professor in the UTSA Department of Biology and the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases. For more than 20 years, he has studied the pathogenesis and persistence of V. cholerae, which is found where there are widespread sanitation problems, particularly in water and food supplies. His research focuses on how the bacterium survives, how it causes disease and how it persists in aquatic environments. Ultimately, Klose and other cholera researchers around the world aim to develop a vaccine to the onset and spread of cholera.