the maxwell lab
Bacteriophages (phages) are the most abundant biological entity in the biosphere. They are found everywhere that bacteria live, including water, soil, and the human body. In fact, phages outnumber the human cells in our bodies 10:1 and they play important roles in a variety of human diseases, including botulism, cholera and toxic shock syndrome.
The Maxwell lab studies the phages that infect and kill the human bacterial pathogens Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. Infections caused by these bacteria create a significant disease burden, and the increasing incidence of antibiotic resistant infections caused by these pathogens is one of our most serious health threats.
Phages play important roles in the infections caused by bacteria as they transmit genes that protect bacteria against both the human immune system and antibiotics, and in some cases, such as the E. coli O157:H7 strain that caused the Walkerton, Ontario outbreak, they carry toxins that cause the severe disease pathology. Conversely, since they attack and kill bacteria, genetically engineered phages may be useful as an alternative to antibiotics. Our lab investigates both the disease-causing properties and the potential therapeutic uses of phages and phage-derived molecules.