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A cross-divisional department spanning

Research Areas

Antimicrobial Resistance and Infectious Disease


Antimicrobial resistance threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi, and is an increasingly serious threat to global public health. The rise of multidrug-resistant bacteria—often called superbugs—is a global crisis according to the World Health Organization and the use of antibiotics in food animal production has been highlighted as an important contributor. Antimicrobial resistance occurs naturally over time, usually through genetic changes. In many places, antibiotics are overused and misused in people and animals, and often given without professional oversight. Antimicrobial resistant-microbes are found in people, animals, food, and the environment (in water, soil and air), and can spread between people and animals, and from person to person. Poor infection control, inadequate sanitary conditions and inappropriate food-handling encourage the spread of antimicrobial resistance.

Research Highlight

Some Hog Workers Developing Drug-Resistant Skin Infections Linked to Livestock-Associated Staph

Over the past decade, animal-adapted strains of antibiotic-resistant Staphylococcus aureus have emerged globally among food-producing animals, as well as among people who have contact with food-producing animals. New research suggests that some workers at industrial hog production facilities are not only carrying livestock-associated, antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their noses, but may also be developing skin infections from these bacteria.

“Before this study, we knew that many hog workers were carrying livestock-associated and multidrug-resistant Staphylococcus aureus strains in their noses, but we didn’t know what that meant in terms of worker health,” says study leader Christopher D. Heaney, PhD. It wasn’t clear whether hog workers carrying these bacteria might be at increased risk of infection. This study suggests that carrying these bacteria may not always be harmless to humans. Because the study was small, there is a need to confirm the findings, but the results highlight the need to identify ways to protect workers from being exposed to these bacteria on the job, and to take a fresh look at antibiotic use and resistance in food animal production. Hogs are given antibiotics in order to grow them more quickly for sale, and the overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the development of bacteria that are resistant to many of the drugs used to treat staph infections.

Associated Faculty

Meghan Davis, DVM, PhD*

Davis, studies the interface of bacteria and hosts to reduce microbe-mediated disease in humans and animals. Her work applies the principles of one health and microbial ecology, evaluating target microbes and bacterial genes specifically and the larger microbial community (microbiome) broadly.


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Chris Heaney, PhD*

Chris' research focuses on environmentally-mediated impacts on health and well-being, specifically community land use, waste disposal, and food production practices, and integrates the academic disciplines of environmental microbiology, molecular biology, atmospheric chemistry, epidemiology, and community-based participatory research (CBPR).


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Kirsten Koehler, PhD*

Koehler's goals are to improve exposure assessment methods to inform occupational and public health policy. Her research goals involve the use of direct-reading instrumentation to improve spatiotemporal exposure assessment. Direct-reading (i.e. “real-time”) monitors can rapidly assess exposures to various hazards, and coupling estimated exposures with a known location to identify occupational sources of these hazards.


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Keeve Nachman, PhD*

Nachman is interested in the interface between science and policy, and the application of a multidisciplinary lens to solve public health and environmental problems associated with the food system. His research aims to generate the scientific evidence needed to support decisions that mitigate human exposures to chemical and microbial hazards associated with food production. 


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Ana Rule, PhD*

Rule's primary research goal is the development and evaluation of novel sampling and analysis strategies for the assessment of exposure to biological aerosols and particulate matter. 


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Fenna Sillé, PhD*

The focus of Dr. Sillé's research is understanding the effects of environmental exposures on the development and function of our immune system. Her major research directions are:

1. Understanding the long-term effects of early-life arsenic exposures on immunity and (infectious) disease risk. - Currently studying the interaction between arsenic and tuberculosis,

2. Establishing an integrated platform for immunotoxicity testing of early-life chemical exposures,

3. Investigating the effects early-life exposures on immunological memory and vaccine efficacy.


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Kellogg Schwab, PhD*

Schwab’s research focuses on environmental microbiology and engineering with an emphasis on the fate and transport of pathogenic microorganisms in water, food and the environment. 


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Brian Schwartz, MD*

Schwartz is an environmental epidemiologist investigating a broad range of environmental exposures and diseases, from specific toxicants like lead and other metals, to newer concerns such as the environmental health consequences of climate change, food production, and unconventional natural gas development


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Genee Smith, PhD*

Smith explores disease patterns with the aim to expand upon the knowledge of understudied relationships between climate change and infectious respiratory diseases, including conditions such as Tuberculosis and Influenza. Her research examines how climate change has the ability to modify exposure to disease, alter host susceptibility to disease, and impact disease morbidity.


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Crystal Watson, DrPH

Watson's policy research focuses on public health risk assessment, crisis and risk-based decision making during contamination emergencies, public health and medical preparedness and response, biodefense, and emerging infectious diseases. She also conducts research on the funding and management of biodefense and health security in the US federal government.


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*Denotes faculty who are accepting PhD students.