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Congratulations to Ellen Perkowski, winner of the inaugural D. Gordon Sharp Graduate Innovator Award. As part of her dissertation work in Miriam Braunstein’s lab, Ellen has developed an innovative system for genome-wide identification of proteins exported by bacterial pathogens during infection. This system, which she has termed “Exported In vivo Technology (EXIT),” has a distinct advantage over previous methodologies that only allowed for the identification of exported bacterial proteins under artificial laboratory conditions. Proteins exported by bacterial pathogens play important roles in infection and immunogenicity and represent ideal candidates for therapeutic development. EXIT takes advantage of an engineered beta-lactamase that only confers antibiotic resistance when fused to an exported bacterial protein or extracellular protein domain. Making the work even more impressive, Ellen has applied EXIT to identify proteins exported by Mycobacterium tuberculosis during a model murine infection. By combining highly complex gene fusion libraries, in vivo antibiotic pressure during infection and next-generation sequencing, Ellen was able to identify over 500 M. tuberculosis proteins specifically exported in the host. EXIT can be adapted for use in a wide variety of pathogens, and Ellen’s findings provide an invaluable resource to the tuberculosis field.

The award honors the memory of Dr. D. Gordon Sharp, a former Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at UNC. During his career, Dr. Sharp was widely recognized for his innovation, his curiosity and the breadth of his thinking. He was a pioneer in both electron microscopy and high-speed centrifugation that he used to elucidate the nature of viruses. He was generous with his time and trained many graduate students, letting them discover the joy of discovery. The awards committee selects among nominees who have exhibited exceptional creativity, perseverance, ability to see and ask big picture questions, and the independent drive to seek out (or develop) the best technologies/models to answer these questions. In addition to an emphasis on innovation and scholarship, the nominees have a commitment to sharing knowledge and mentoring.

Our thanks to M&I alumnus J. David Gangemi (PhD 1973) for his donation to establish this new graduate student award. If you like the idea of the Sharp Graduate Innovator Award and wish to support its continuation, follow these instructions for donating online: