Frank H. Portugal


Dr. Frank H. Portugal is a Director of the M.S. in Biotechnology Program and Clinical Associate Professor of Biology and at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He received his B.S. in pharmaceutical sciences from Columbia University and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois (Chicago campus). He did his postdoctoral work at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, with Nobelist Dr. Marshall Nirenberg. While on the scientific staff at NIH, he collaborated with Dr. Dolph Hatfield on what led eventually to the discovery of selenocysteine, the 21st amino acid. He is the author of several books including A Century of DNA (co-authored with Dr. Jack Cohen) and The Least Likely Man, about the life and work of Dr. Nirenberg, who discovered the genetic code.

Research Interests:

Our laboratory focuses on the investigation of factors secreted by certain pathogenic bacteria that can inhibit pathogen growth. These factors appear distinct from quorum sensors, which do not inhibit growth but switch on the expression of virulence genes when pathogens enter the stationary phase of growth in culture. Quorum sensors for Gram-negative bacteria are derivatives of homoserine lactones, whereas quorum sensors for Gram-positive bacteria are small peptides. Furthermore, these unknown factors also appear to be different from bacteriocins, which bacteria secrete and which prevent the growth of competing organisms but not the bacterial species that secreted the factor. Our investigations center on the exact chemical structure for the inhibitory factors from both Gram-negative and Gram-positive organisms. Once the structures are known, we will investigate what regulates expression of these factors during growth, and how these factors might be used to treat patients with serious infections who are not responding well to antibiotics.

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