Dr. Crook’s research focuses on developing new methods for engineering microbes, and applying these methods to improve human health. As a graduate student in the laboratory of Dr. Hal Alper at UT Austin, Dr. Crook developed several new methods to genetically engineer baker’s yeast, including RNAi screens and continuous directed evolution approaches using retrotransposons. Dr. Crook also developed model-based approaches for yeast engineering, encompassing the strengthening of yeast promoters via nucleosome exclusion and enhancing translation rate via removal of mRNA secondary structure. As a postdoc in the laboratory of Dr. Gautam Dantas at Washington University in Saint Louis, Dr. Crook explored the evolutionary trajectories of probiotic E. coli Nissle in the mammalian gut, including genomic mutations and horizontally transferred genes. As a new assistant professor at NC State, Dr. Crook’s lab combines his training in metabolic engineering and gut microbial ecology to engineer probiotic yeast (S. boulardii) to secrete drug molecules in the gut.
Relevance of Research to CGIBD Mission: Dr. Crook’s research directly addresses the CGIBD mission of performing multidisciplinary research to reduce the burden of gastrointestinal diseases. The ability to precisely control microbial phenotypes in the complex and dynamic environment of the human gut is still in its infancy, requiring expertise in metabolic engineering, microbial ecology, and gastroenterology. Nevertheless, making progress toward this goal will enable precision synthesis and delivery of biologic drugs directly to the site of disease via microbial factories which are cheap to manufacture and shelf stable.
CGIBD Focus Area(s): Microbiome, Probiotics
Collaborators: Magness, Tonkonogy