Leader, Bacteriology Program
Southern Research Institute
2000 Ninth Avenue South
Birmingham, AL 35205
Dr. Benitez is an expert in microbial genetics and physiology. He graduated from the University of Havana School of Biochemistry and Pharmacy and obtained his Ph.D. in microbial genetics and biochemistry at the National Center for Scientific Research in Havana, Cuba. He received postdoctoral training at the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw and later at the Institute for Microbiology of the University of Dusseldorf supported by an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (Bonn, Germany) research fellowship.
Throughout his career, Dr. Benitez' research has focused on the physiology and genetics of bacteria and yeast, and he has authored and co-authored more than 60 scientific articles on this subject. He is recognized for providing scientific guidance leading to the development of a clinically safe, highly immunogenic, and protective live genetically-attenuated cholera vaccine. Since 2001, Dr. Benitez' research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He has served as a permanent member of the National Institutes of Health Center for Scientific Review Host Interaction with Bacterial Pathogens Study Section and as editorial board member of the journals Infection and Immunity (ASM Press) and Current Immunology Reviews (Bentham Science Publishers). He has taught organic chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, general and microbial genetics, and molecular biology at the University of Havana, California State University, and Morehouse School of Medicine (Atlanta, GA) where he currently holds an adjunct Associate Professor position. Dr. Benitez also serves as an adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine Department of Microbiology and is a member of the Cell and Molecular Biology graduate faculty.
The focus of this research is to understand how bacteria sense, integrate, and respond to overlapping environmental stimuli using the cholera bacterium as a model. Vibrio cholerae is a Gram-negative, highly motile bacterium that causes the diarrheal disease, cholera. Cholera is a paradigm waterborne disease transmitted by the fecal-oral route. Infecting Vibrios colonize the human small bowel, where secretion of cholera toxin triggers a profuse rice-watery diarrhea. Late in infection, cholera bacteria down-regulate the expression of virulence factors and activate the production of protease and motility to detach from the intestinal mucosa and return to the aquatic environment. The cholera bacterium can also switch between motile free-living and sessile biofilm lifestyles. These behavioral switches are modulated by multiple interacting signal transduction pathways and global regulators.
The objective of Dr. Benitez' research is to identify critical regulators controlling bacterial behavior in the cholera bacterium. To this end, his laboratory combines multiple approaches such as bacterial genetics, functional genomics, and animal models. Emphasis is placed on conserved regulatory proteins or pathways that regulate virulence, motility, and biofilm formation in the broadest range of bacterial pathogens. The ultimate goal of his research is to identify bacterial targets for small molecules capable of modifying bacterial behavior to prevent them from causing disease.