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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

Editing Genes to Cure HIV. Three Drexel scientists are playing instrumental roles in a nationwide quest to conquer HIV using CRISPR gene-editing technology. Exel Drexel University Research Magazine (2023)

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

“Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center Research Consortium: Committed to Changing the Cancer Landscape in Philadelphia”

Drexel University and Thomas Jefferson University are longtime allies in the fight against cancer. That partnership was formalized in 2013 as the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center (SKCC) Research Consortium, a relationship that was reinvigorated in 2021, in preparation for the center’s application to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. Read more. (Pulse Spring 2024)

Alumni News

Congratulations to MS in Biomedicine and Business alumna Hilary Schultz, for being featured in the Top 100 Innovators & Entrepreneurs magazine as their cover story.

College of Medicine Team Creates Award-Winning Educational Game

An educational game designed by a team from the Institute for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease at Drexel University College of Medicine recently took home a silver medal from the International Serious Play Awards competition in Toronto, Canada. Read more.

ILADEF Neil Spector Award

The International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society presented the Neil Spector Award to PhD candidate Ben Haslund-Gourley at the 2023 ILADS scientific conference. This award is given to the best scientific presentation of the conference. Ben presented two talks: Immunoglobulin N-Glycans Role in Diagnosing Lyme Disease and Immunoglobulins N-glycans Impair Host Response to Lyme Disease. Ben’s win is the second consecutive win for a Drexel Microbiology & Immunology program. Graduate student Kayla Socarras was awarded the honor in 2022. Prior to the past two years, awardees have been senior investigators with international reputations. Ben is mentored by Dr. Mary Ann Comunale in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology.

VOA Burmese Profile

Michiko Thwe, biomedical engineering PhD candidate, was interviewed about their research in Alzheimer's Disease by VOA Burmese. Watch video on YouTube at (အယ်လ်ဇိုင်းမားရောဂါ သုသေသနပြုစုနေသူ).

Van Duuren Fulbright Travel Grant

Keziah Adjei, Molecular Medicine program student, was awarded a Van Duuren Fulbright travel grant to attend America Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) conference in Chicago from October 18 to 22, 2023. Adjei was one of only four recipients this year of this award which provides funds for travel‐related educational expenses to select Fulbrighters studying in the fields of sciences and public health. The America Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), draws tropical medicine and global health professionals representing academia, foundations, government, not-for-profit organizations, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, the military and private practice. The meeting is designed for researchers, professors, government and public health officials, military personnel, travel clinic physicians, practicing physicians in tropical medicine, students and all health care providers working in the fields of tropical medicine, hygiene and global health.

CRISPR Cutout™ Game Wins Silver Medal

CRISPR Cutout™

The CRISPR Cutout™ game was awarded a silver medal at the 2023 International Serious Play Award competition in Toronto, Canada. CRISPR Cutout™ is the fourth in a series of mobile educational games developed by the Institute for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease. CRISPR Cutout™ introduces the molecular mechanisms of a cutting-edge genome editing technology called clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, or CRISPR. Players create a gene-editing tool to use in a cell to cut out a sequence of HIV DNA. Learn more about CRISPR Cutout™.

Student News

Congratulations to PhD/MD student Benjamin Haslund-Gourley, who was awarded the Goldie Simon Preceptorship Award to complete a summer project examining the glycosylation of autoantibodies associated with Lupus entitled, "High-Throughput Method to Identify Lupus-Specific Autoantibody Glycosylation." Benjamin will present his findings this September.

Congratulations to MS in Molecular Medicine student and Fulbright Foreign Program awardee Keziah Adjei on recently having her P.E.O. Peace Scholarship renewed.

2023 SFAF Genomics Conference

Angelina Wang gave a plenary session talk on CGS trans-pan-domain assay at the SFAF Genomics Conference in Santa Fe, NM, June 8, 2023. Angelina is a receipient of the CREATE "Community Research Education And Tutoring Experience" award. Reciepients work with faculty, staff and graduate students within the Center for Genomic Sciences, the Center for Advanced Microbial Processing and the Center for Surgical Infections and Biofilms to develop and execute a research program. Angelina was mentored by Michiko Thwe, Felicity Tso and Bhaswati Sen, PhD.

2023 Golden Apple Award Winners Announced

The annual Golden Apple Awards recognize outstanding service, teaching and mentoring by Drexel University College of Medicine faculty and professional staff, who are nominated by each class of medical students for the honor. Students vote to determine the award winners. Read more.

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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