Climate Change, Iron Usage and Pathogenic Vibrios

2016 Seed Grant

Award Period: 2016-2018

During the past 100 years, global temperatures have risen approximately 0.6 degrees Celsius and are predicted to rise by 1 to 5 degrees Celsisus within the next century. This temperature increase creates ideal conditions for pathogenic bacterial species such as Vibrios, which thrive in warm coastal waters and can become more virulent at elevated temperatures. The most infamous member of this genus, V. cholerae, causes 2.9 million infections and 95,000 deaths annually. Other Vibrios such as V. parahaemolyticus, V. vulnificus and V. alginolyticus infect shellfish and commercial marine species, but can be transmitted to humans via seafood consumption as well as wound infection during swimming. Climate change may lead to increases in the number and severity of these infections.

Iron acquisition is an important but neglected aspect of Vibrio pathogenicity. During infections, pathogens engage in chemical warfare with their hosts in order to obtain iron, commonly employing small iron-binding molecules called siderophores. Siderophore production in Vibrios is controlled by iron and by quorum sensing. However the details of this regulation are not fully understood and there is no information as to how it might change with increasing temperature.

Through this research, the Morel group is interested in characterizing siderophore production in response to iron, quorum sensing and elevated temperatures. This work should improve the fundamental understanding of siderophores, a tool used by almost all bacteria, and offer new insights into the infection strategies of an increasingly important pathogen.

Educational Impacts

Funds awarded will be used to support a graduate research assistant and an undergraduate student. Defined-medium development has been carried out as part of an undergraduate summer research project and will likely develop into a junior project and senior thesis. Vibrio siderophore experiments will comprise the final dissertation chapters of the graduate student’s dissertation.


Albert G. Blanke, Jr., Professor of Geosciences. Professor of Geosciences and the Princeton Environmental Institute

Graduate Students

Undergraduate Students

  • Donald Martocello, Class of 2018