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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

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."
Amanda Platt, CAMP lab member, with her poster at Discovery Day 2019
Amanda Platt at Discovery Day
Hayley Majer, CAMP lab member, with her poster at Discovery Day 2019
Hayley Majer at Discovery Day

Speaker Jeffrey Lapides presenting 'Identifying Predictive Patterns in  Microbiome and Genomic Data Using Discrete Classification Mathematics'

Dr. Lapides Presents Research on Discrete Classification Mathematics

August 28, 2019: Garth Ehrlich, PhD, hosted Jeffrey Lapides, PhD, at that day’s IMMID research seminar. Dr. Lapides presented his research, “Identifying Predictive Patterns in Microbiome and Genomic Data Using Discrete Classification Mathematics” at that day’s IMMID research seminar. Dr. Lapides, founder and managing director of Lapides Consulting, uses machine learning techniques, predictive analytics and visualization methods to support health care and other organizations seeking to advance how they manage and market.

Mobile game Malaria Invasion™ provides a close look at how the malaria parasite Plasmodium infects red blood cells, available now on iTunes App Store

August 26, 2019: Malaria Invasion, the latest educational mobile game produced by the Institute for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease at Drexel University College of Medicine is available for free download from iTunes App Store for iPhone and iPad users, and in the Google Play Store for Android devices. The mobile game is intended to be a supplementary tool to teach university students, in particular graduate students and research trainees in infectious disease, about the molecular mechanisms of disease in malaria. Read more.

What Makes Lyme Tick

August 2019: Lying inside a freezer in Drexel’s College of Medicine are 500 dead, mourned by no one. The deer ticks, dog ticks, lone star ticks and other tiny parasites in the diminutive morgue traveled from nearly every state in the country to reach this resting place. They arrived in baggies or cookie tins or what-have-you, scooped from meadows and forests by helpful volunteers responding to a “call for specimens” on Drexel’s website that was posted by Kayla Socarrás, a doctoral student studying microbiology and immunology. Each tick contains multitudes of smaller organisms — a grab-bag of the pathogenic bacteria that make tick bites so hazardous. Read more.

Malaria Invasion Receives Gold Medal

June 14, 2019: Congratulations to the Department of Microbiology & Immunology and the Institute for Molecular Medicine & Infectious Disease, whose game Malaria Invasion was awarded a gold medal by the 2019 International Serious Play Award program! Dr. Mary Ann Comunale, creative director, and Dr. Sandra Urdaneta-Hartmann, project director, will be traveling to the Serious Play Conference, where they will present game-based learning research and accept the award. John Harvey, a co-op student hired by the Institute and funded in part by the Steinbright Career Development Center, shares in the award as part of the game design team and game developer. John is currently a senior in the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design program.

Kayla Socarras Presents at PA Lyme Resource Network

January 28, 2019: PhD candidate Kayla Socarrás presented her research regarding Lyme disease at the PA Lyme Resource Network of Montgomery County. Kayla met with participants following the meeting to answer additional questions and talk more about her findings.

Kayla Socarras at PA Lyme Resource Network
Kayla Socarras (right) discussing her research with attendees at the PA Lyme Resource Network meeting.

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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