With the Researcher Spotlight, the Microbial Systems Initiative aims to introduce you to the breadth and diversity of research interests and potential growth opportunities at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus. We hope that by highlighting both the researchers and their research, we can help you to learn more about and connect with your colleagues to enhance multidisciplinary research and education in microbial sciences here at Illinois.
Joseph Sanfilippo, PhD
Department of Biochemistry
Dr. Joseph Sanfilippo is an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry at Illinois. He recieved his PhD in microbiology at Indiana University and completed his postdoctoral training at Princton University. His research program aims to study interactions of bacteria and physical forces using techniques from Biology, Chemistry, Physics, & Engineering. The Sanfilippo lab is focused on exploring the intersection of bacteria and the physical world. Using a novel microfluidic-based transcriptomic approach, his team was the first to discover that bacterial cells actively sense and respond to flow speed, through a process named rheosensing. A major focus of Dr. Sanfilippo's research group is to discover the molecular and biophysical mechanisms that control rheosensing. The lab also engineers custom microfluidic devices with a variety of heights, widths, and channel geometries to experimentally model realistic bacterial environments.
Do you have a personal story to share or path that led to your interest in this area of study?
As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, I had a research advisor who was a Professor Emeritus. Throughout his life, he had a dream to understand the behavior of butterflies. This simple dream motivated him to come into lab every day, even in retirement. The first day I met him, my eyes were opened to the beauty of scientific research. His quiet example, coupled with my intrinsic interest in nature, drove me to become a scientist.
How does being part of the University of Illinois and/or the Champaign-Urbana community impact your research?
The interdisciplinary environment at the University of Illinois has already had a very positive impact on my research. Conversations and interactions with faculty and students from Physics, Engineering, Chemistry, and Molecular Biology has provided a perfect environment for me and my research group. Additionally, the diversity within MCB has provided me and my students will a wealth of expertise and support. Specifically, the wonderful faculty in Biochemistry and Microbiology have helped accelerate my research on bacterial pathogens in fluid flow.
Do you want to tell us about any projects or activities that you are particularly excited about right now?
I am particularly excited about my current research on how fluid flow affects bacterial pathogens. Fluid flow is present in many environments that bacterial pathogens infect, such as heart valves, the bloodstream, and the urinary tract. However, virtually all research on bacterial pathogens over the past 100 years has been carried out in static, simple lab conditions. In my lab, we use an interdisciplinary approach that combines microfluidic technology with molecular biology to study bacteria in dynamic, flowing environments. We have recently discovered that fluid flow affects many aspects of bacterial life, including attachment and detachment from surfaces, gene expression, and stress responses to hydrogen peroxide.