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Catherine Leimkuhler Grimes studies the immune system, focusing on its capacity for distinguishing between harmful and helpful bacteria.
Chances are your body's immune system is
saving your neck again right now, working quietly in the background to
defeat whatever viruses, bacteria, fungi or other enemies have gotten
However, the system needs to protect you while a trillion good
bacteria reside in or on your body. It's an important balance to
Catherine Leimkuhler Grimes, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry
at the University of Delaware, has been studying the immune system for
several years, especially its capacity for identifying enemy forces. How
do cells distinguish between harmful bacteria and helpful bacteria?
The work is critical for global health, with treatment-resistant
bacteria a growing concern and long-term immune system problems such as
Crohn's disease, lupus, and irritable bowel syndrome increasingly
Grimes' research requires sophisticated analysis of proteins and
their role in identifying bacterial threats. Specifically, she is trying
to learn how a class of unstable proteins is able to sense the presence
of bacteria. Her laboratory is investigating how the immune systems of
humans and yeast are triggered when they encounter certain fragments of
bacterial cell walls.
Grimes finds it fascinating that the yeasts that live inside the
human body have developed hands, or receptors, to grab the fragments
of bacterial cell wall that resemble the human receptors.
Now the National Science Foundation (NSF) has recognized the promise
of Grimes' research with a five-year, $750,000 Faculty Early Career
Development Award, one of the most prestigious such grants available to
Grimes and the student researchers in her lab are now working to
define the differences between the human and yeast systems. Using new
biochemical techniques, her team strives to unveil the recognition
I feel extremely lucky to work with such a dynamic group of
students," Grimes said. "They are as committed to these problems as I
am. We truly work as a team.
Her team collaborates with a number of chemists at UD, including the
laboratories of Brian J. Bahnson and Tatyana Polenova to gain structural
information, as well as a yeast geneticist at Villanova University,
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Grimes will work with Jennifer Gallo-Fox (left), assistant professor of human development and family studies, to develop science lessons that teachers can use with young children.
A major goal of the NSF is to establish scientific outreach. Grimes
has teamed up with Jennifer Gallo-Fox, assistant professor of human development and family studies, to develop science curriculum that teachers can use with children from pre-kindergarten through second grade.
"A lot of early childhood teachers are anxious about their knowledge
of science and their ability to teach science," Gallo-Fox said.
"Part of our goal is to create a network of mentors," Gallo-Fox said,
connecting teachers with scientists and researchers in a partnership
that supports classroom instruction.
Grimes and her students will be a great help to them, she said.
"I want the early educators to feel empowered and confident," Grimes said.
Gallo-Fox is a researcher in the field of teacher education who
teaches the early childhood education course on science methods. Her
focus is on helping early childhood educators teach effectively. She and
Grimes hope to draw liberally on each other's expertise in this new
Gallo-Fox estimates that by the end of the five-year grant, their
collaboration will impact science instruction for more than 12,000
The collaboration will also develop hands-on projects teachers can
use in their classrooms using accessible, household materials.
Grimes and Gallo-Fox are in the early stages of project development
and have been working on a project that will demonstrate the growth of
bacteria and how scientists study things they cannot see.
"Students often get textbooks and think what's in there was always
known," Grimes said. "But at one point, those things were not known. Two
sentences in that textbook may represent someone's whole [research]
The fact that important new discoveries are being made in Grimes'
lab and many others adds energy and power to the work and puts
students in the middle of solving real problems.