Biologist with Genomics Background Joins UMass Amherst Microbiology Faculty

AMHERST, Mass. - Biologist Pablo Pomposiello has joined the microbiology department of the University of Massachusetts as an assistant professor. Pomposiello comes to UMass from Harvard University School of Public Health, where he was a post-doctoral fellow in the department of cancer cell biology.

Pomposiello studies which genes respond to oxidative damage in the bacterium E. coli (Escherichia coli), and how they do so. E. coli is best known for causing some diarrheal diseases. "All of my research has revolved around finding the answer to one question: When in trouble, what do cells do?" explained Pomposiello. "When an oxygen-using organism is deprived of or flooded with oxygen, what is that organism''s genetic response to such a stressful event? In other words, what genes try to fix the damage or help the organism avoid harm?"

Until recently, he said, such work was done using classical genetics techniques to determine which genes were activated, one gene or one protein at a time. With today''s tools, including microarray technologies and an understanding of the genome of E. coli, researchers can look at a particular response in a complete set of genes all at once, according to Pomposiello.

"We grow millions of cells, stress them, then look at which genes react. We know or have a pretty good idea of what about two-thirds of E. coli''s genes do," Pompsiello said. "With the tools we have now, we can get a snapshot of genetic response at the level of a complete genome. From that, we can make good guesses about those genes we don''t know much about. Of course, the big assumption is that cells follow economic principles, making changes only when needed."

Derek R. Lovley, chair of the microbiology department, notes Pomposiello''s experience with new technology, and says his background will strengthen the reach of the department. "We''re lucky to have Pablo Pomposiello on our faculty. Not only does he have a good, strong foundation in microbiology, he is well-versed in modern approaches to studying microorganisms. His technical skills should bring us to the cutting edge of where microbiology is today. While much of the research done in this department involves novel and useful characteristics of anaerobic microorganisms, Pablo studies how cells operate in the presence of oxygen. But, he looks at an entire genome, not just an individual gene. This is the way our science will be done in the future."

Born in Argentina, Pomposiello holds a bachelor''s degree in biology from the University of Buenos Aires and a doctorate from the University of Michigan.