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Center for Advanced Microbial Processing (CAMP)

The Center for Advanced Microbial Processing's mission is to identify and isolate the genetic components responsible for the generation of the target molecules in non-model organisms and to engineer them for insertion into model bacterial hosts with the ultimate goal being the efficient and cost-effective production of the target molecule.

At the Center for Advanced Microbial Processing we will work toward our goals through interactions between three state-of-the-art facilities:

  • A next-generation sequencing center (led by Dr. Garth Ehrlich) which will allow for mining of microbial genomes, metagenomes and hologenomes that we identify as producers of target molecules
  • A biochemistry and proteomics analysis laboratory (led by Dr. Joris Beld), which will allow for screening, identification, analysis and purification of target molecules
  • A microbial engineering lab for the cloning of genes of interest and the efficient production of target molecules

Antibiotic pipelines in industry are drying up, and more and more pathogens are emerging with resistance to our current treatments. The goal of the Center for Advanced Microbial Processing (CAMP) is to tackle this problem by using microbes as both a source and a tool for the discovery and production of therapeutic agents and novel biologicals.

Nature is extremely efficient at producing complex molecules from very simple starting materials. For example, plants and algae turn sunlight and CO2 into many diverse molecules, including DNA, RNA, proteins, sugars and lipids. Other microbes like many bacteria utilize simple sugars (e.g., glucose) as their food source. Humans have also learned how to make many of these complex molecules synthetically in the laboratory, however the costs and effort can be staggering. Allowing microbes make these molecules for us is the founding principle of biotechnology. This process only requires food for the microbe (e.g., sugar for bacteria), which provides us the product relatively inexpensively. On top of that, bacteria can be fermented at high densities and growth rates, making this biotechnological process fast and efficient.

This approach has only been commercialized in a few cases, often because the underlying biochemistry and microbiology of the microbe is not well understood. For example, in some cases the product itself can be food for the bacteria and thus will be eaten before we can isolate it. Sometimes the product is toxic to the producer. In other cases, regulatory elements can prohibit overproduction or there is simply not sufficient intermediate substrate present in the cell for product formation. These are just a handful of the challenges in designing a microbial platform for rapid, high-yield production of high-value products, like biofuels, medicines or building blocks for the chemical industry.

In order to solve many of these hurdles, researchers have ushered in an era of "metabolic engineering" or "synthetic biology." In this process, we first gain genomic, proteomic and metabolic insight from the bacteria, so that we can build a model of the bacteria in silico. This model describes all the genes, proteins and metabolites in the bacteria and allows us to define metabolic bottlenecks beforehand. With surgical precision we can then edit the genome of the bacteria to remove these hurdles, by insertion of extra genes or deletion and mutation of existing genes. In the end, the goal is to custom design a bacterial strain that produces the desired product in greater amount and faster the original progenitor strain. Engineering the biosynthetic clusters responsible for the production of high-value molecules (e.g., novel drugs) into hosts that are easier to grow is the holy grail of modern metabolic engineering.

In the Media

May 27, 2020: Kayla M. Socarrás, a Microbiology & Immunology PhD student and researcher, was quoted in a Men's Health article about how to get rid of ticks this summer. The article was also published by Yahoo.

September 10, 2019: Garth Ehrlich, PhD, a professor of microbiology and immunology, and otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, was quoted in a Grid Philly story about why we're seeing more cases of Lyme disease.

August 23, 2019: Garth D. Ehrlich, PhD, a professor of microbiology and immunology, and otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, was quoted in an opinion article on common myths about Lyme disease diagnosis and treatment.

April 23, 2019: Kayla Socarras, a PhD candidate, was quoted in a Yahoo! Lifestyle story about an impending uptick in bug populations this summer and how to avoid tick bites.

June 28, 2018: PhD candidate Kayla Socarras was quoted in a Bicycling story about how to protect yourself from ticks this summer.

May 9, 2018: Kayla Socarras, a PhD candidate, was interviewed for a WTXF-TV (FOX-29) news segment about the migration of dangerous, exotic ticks that are traveling internationally with people to the United States and not dying out over mild winters.

April 27, 2018: Kayla Socarras, a PhD candidate, was quoted in a Men’s Health story about how to protect yourself against Lyme disease during tick season.

August 23, 2017: Garth Ehrlich, PhD, was quoted in a Philadelphia Inquirer story about a project his lab is undertaking to collect ticks from the public and use advanced gene sequencing techniques to study their microbiomes. Dr. Ehrlich’s research study was also quoted in a KYW-Newsradio (1060-AM) on August 26.

May 19, 2017: A Bucks County Courier Times article about the difficulty in diagnosing and treating Lyme disease, which quoted Garth Ehrlich, PhD, was picked up by WCAU-TV (NBC-10)'s website.

May 12, 2017: Garth Ehrlich, PhD, was quoted in a Bucks County Courier Times story about the difficulty in diagnosing and treating Lyme disease.

March 29, 2017: Joshua Chang Mell, PhD, was quoted in a Cystic Fibrosis News Today story about a recent study he published, which profiled the genes of bacteria commonly found in the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients.

July 15, 2016: Garth Ehrlich, PhD, was quoted in a Huffington Post story about how the bacteria that causes Lyme disease can linger in the body and cause other illnesses.

May 24, 2016: Garth Ehrlich, PhD, was interviewed on KYW-TV (CBS-3) about how to check for and properly remove ticks from the body to prevent Lyme disease.

News and Announcements

Kayla Socarras, PhD M&I ’22 Receives T32 Award

Kayla Socarras, PhD microbiology & immunology ’22 and postdoctoral associate at the Translational Genomics Group at the Broad Institute of Harvard and MIT received a T32 award from the Mass General Brigham Training Program in Precision and Genomic Medicine.

Work In Early Lyme Detection Wins LymeX Diagnostic Prize

A team led by Mary Ann Comunale, EdD, MS, is a recipient of the Phase 1 LymeX Diagnostic Prize sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Steve & Alexandra Cohen Foundation. Read more.

Tower Health Research Day

Benjamin Haslund-Gourley won 1st place at the Tower Health Research Day for his talk titled: "Characterizing Aberrant N-Glycosylation During Acute Lyme Disease." His abstract was selected for 1 of 5 talks out of 97 entries. Ben is a third-year MD/PhD student in the lab of Dr. Comunale, Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Neil Spector Humanitarian Award

Kayla Socarras, PhD candidate in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, is the 2022 recipient of the Neil Spector Humanitarian Award presented at the International Lyme and Associated Disease Society (ILADS) conference held in Orlando Florida. Kayla has attended the conference since 2015. She presented posters in 2016-2018 and in 2021 and was a speaker in 2019, 2020 and 2022. This year her presentation was titled "Construction of a Dual Borrelia/Borreliella Genera Pangenome for Diagnostics and Therapeutics."

Haslund-Gourley Wins Provost's Award for Best In-Person Oral Research Presentation

April 20, 2022: Benjamin Haslund-Gourley, MD/PhD student in the Microbiology & Immunology program, won the Provost's Award for Best In-Person Oral Research Presentation for "N-glycans on IgG Reflect Acute Lyme Disease and Treatment Response."

Hep-B Ware Wins 3rd Place

Drexel's Hep-B Ware has won 3rd place for Student Games Presented in the PechaKucha Style at the European Conference on Game-based Learning. Mary Ann Comunale presented the game at the conference that took place on September 23-24, 2021. The game was developed by Drexel co-op student Christopher Dobbins (Game Design and Production 20'). PechaKucha is a storytelling format where the game presents 20 slides for 20 seconds of commentary each. Download Hep-B Ware on Google Play (

Congratulations on Successful Thesis Defense

On April 23, 2021, Kaytie Innamorati successfully defended her PhD thesis entitled “Comparative genomics of the keystone mucosal pathogens Porphyromonas gingivalis and Gardnerella vaginalis reveal associations between virulence phenotypes and phylogenetic structures.”

On March 31, 2021, Haley Majer successfully defended her PhD thesis entitled “Natural Product Discovery of Thiopeptide Producers and Functional Characterization of Adenylation-Domains in Thiostrepton and Siomycin Biosynthesis.”

August 2020 Karabots Junior Fellows Outreach Initiative

Department of Microbiology and Immunology students and staff have completed another outreach initiative with The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Karabots Junior Fellows. The Junior Fellows are high school students and Philadelphia residents with an interest in health care or medicine, who will be the first in their immediate family to graduate with a higher education degree, and who qualify for free or reduced lunch. The graduate students designed and implemented a three-session program that discussed the need for a cohesive and well-planned national pandemic strategy. The discussions focused on: the role of health care providers and epidemiologists; biostatistics and the creation of databases; the role of biomedical researchers in targeted therapies and vaccine development; and the need for honest and scientifically correct communications between those working to mitigate a pandemic as well as dissemination of information to the public. Participants included Dr. Mary Ann Comunale, Jennifer Conners, Elijah Davis Rachael, Erlich Mohamed Hager, Dr. Ogan Kumova, Teresa LuPone and Kayla Socarras.

Discovery Day 2019

November 7, 2019: Students and professional staff from the Ehrlich, Beld, and Mell Labs, including Jocelyn Hammond, Hayley Majer, Danielle Piazza and Amanda Platt, presented posters at the 2019 Discovery Day at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

Discovery Day is an all-day annual event of intellectual pursuit and discovery, which is organized to celebrate the basic and clinical research accomplishments of the graduate, medical and undergraduate students, clinical research coordinators, postdoctoral fellows, and residents and fellows affiliated with the College of Medicine.

  • Jocelyn Hammond, MS, a research associate at the Center for Advanced Microbial Processing (CAMP), presented her poster, “Supragenome-wide Association Study in NontypeableHaemophilus influenzae Reveals Role for Polyamine Metabolism and pH Homeostasis in Otitis Media.”
  • Haley Majer, a PhD candidate in the lab of Joris Beld, PhD, presented her posted, “Whole Genome Sequencing of Actinomycetes Isolates Reveal Gene Clusters that Encode Potent Antibiotics.”
  • Danielle Piazza, a PhD candidate in the lab of Joshua Chang Mell, PhD, presented her poster, “Detecting Genetic Events without Genetics: Direct Visualization of Genome-Wide Recombination in a Pathogenic Bacterium by Optical Mapping.”
  • Amanda Platt, a fourth-year PhD candidate in the lab of Joris Beld, PhD, presented her poster, "Understanding protein-protein interactions in natural product biosynthesis using a small synthase."

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Garth D. Ehrlich, PhD

Garth D. Ehrlich, PhD
Founder and Executive Director of CAMP; Professor of Microbiology & Immunology; Professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery