Microbiology Department Overview

The Department of Microbiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center focuses on conducting basic and translational research in infectious diseases and training graduate students, medical students, physician scientists, and postdoctoral fellows.  Our goals are to provide and continue to develop a rich environment of interdisciplinary research excellence within a highly collaborative atmosphere for faculty and students.

History of the Department

The Early Years

MacDonald Fulton, Ph.D., was the first Chair of the Department.  Microbiology was the first approved doctoral graduate program at UT Southwestern, and the first Ph.D. degree was awarded in 1955. Despite the Department’s small size, exciting research was taking place: major advances in understanding the biology of the rabies virus by S. Edward Sulkin, Ph.D. (the second Department Chair), pioneering work with cholera toxin by Richard Finkelstein, Ph.D., and important studies of the genetics of staphylococci by Eugene Rosenblum, Ph.D.

In 1972, Dr. Sulkin stepped down as Chair of Microbiology after 27 years. His successor, Jonathan W. Uhr, M.D., was provided resources to expand the Department’s teaching and research capabilities.  Under Dr. Uhr’s leadership, the Department became renowned in immunology.  At the same time, outstanding scientists were recruited to study the molecular bases of microbial pathogenesis, particularly in the areas of toxins, Gram-negative bacteria, spirochetes, and viruses.

Where We Are Now

In 1998, Dr. Uhr stepped down as Chair after 25 years, and the Department was split and reorganized. Michael V. Norgard, Ph.D., became the new Chair of Microbiology, with the mission of expanding research in cellular microbiology, microbial pathogenesis, cell biology, virology, and host-parasite interactions. The Center for Immunology also was newly created, which eventually became the Department of Immunology, first directed by Ward Wakeland, Ph.D. and now under the direction of Lora Hooper, Ph.D..

The Department of Microbiology continues to focus on molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying host-microbe interactions, with emphasis on bacterial and viral pathogenesis.  Research sub-themes include the microbiome, metabolism of bacterial pathogens, animal reservoirs for bacteria and viruses, viral and bacterial gene regulation, molecular interplay between viruses and bacteria, pathogenic spirochetes, resistance to antimicrobials, tuberculosis, and how evolution, genetics, and molecular countermeasures govern viral pathogenicity.  Novelty is engendered by the strategic use of unconventional model host systems such as Lepidopteran moths, bats, swine, nematodes, etc.  Multidisciplinary strengths include the use of biochemistry, molecular modeling, mass spectrometry, structural biology, small-molecule inhibitors, protein biophysics, and cell imaging (confocal and cryo-electron tomography).