Table of Contents
Gena Tribble, Ph.D.
assistant professor of periodontics, UT Dental Branch
Research Work: Prokaryotic DNA Transfer: From Antibiotic Resistance to Adaptive Evolution in the Human Oral Cavity
Brushing and flossing our teeth twice a day is sometimes not enough to ward off two powerful bacteria that cause bleeding gums, tooth loss and oral infections. Microbiologist Gena Tribble, Ph.D., wants to understand why Porphyromonas gingivalis and Prevotella intermedia invade our mouths and refuse to go away.
“Our body generates a strong immune response to these bacteria, but it is not effective at killing the bacteria and removing them from the mouth,” said Tribble. “If we can understand what methods the bacteria are using to avoid removal by the immune system and also removal by mechanical cleaning and antibiotic treatment, then we can design better therapies for treating patients.”
Bacteria thrive in the mouth and set up shop on our teeth and in our gums.
“For people who brush and floss twice a day, these bacteria are usually not a problem, but for people who don’t do a good job cleaning their teeth and for people who have other systemic health problems, such as diabetes, the bacteria in the mouth can become a real danger,” Tribble said. “These bacteria can destroy the structures that hold your teeth in place, causing the teeth to fall out; they also can cause abscesses, root canal infections, and they might even get into your bloodstream and cause infections in other parts of the body.”
By using molecular and cellular biology techniques, Tribble studies the bacteria and their interaction with human tissues.
“We isolate these bacteria and grow them in the laboratory to study their DNA and how certain genes help them survive and cause disease in humans,” Tribble explained. “We also grow human gingival cells in the lab, which allows us to study how the bacteria and human cells interact with each other.”
The scientific community is taking notice of Tribble’s important work with oral bacteria. Last year, she published a study in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences where she documented the role of a gene that allows Porphyromonas gingivalis to invade and survive in human cells.
Previous story Next story