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August 5, 2002

Fitnat Yildiz receives Ellison Medical Foundation award

By Tim Stephens

The Ellison Medical Foundation has awarded a New Scholars in Global Infectious Diseases grant to assistant professor of environmental toxicology Fitnat Yildiz. The award provides $200,000 ($50,000 per year for four years) in support of Yildiz's research on the environmental factors involved in outbreaks of Asiatic or epidemic cholera.

Photo of Fitnat Yildiz

Fitnat Yildiz's award marks the second year in a row that a new faculty member in the Environmental Toxicology Department has received a New Scholars award from the Ellison Medical Foundation.

The bacterium that causes cholera, Vibrio cholerae, causes periodic seasonal epidemics in many areas of the developing world, such as India, Bangladesh, and Southeast Asia. A 1991 outbreak in Peru marked the first appearance of cholera this century in South America, and it has since spread to other parts of South and Central America.

"Cholera is a re-emerging disease in the Americas," Yildiz said. "It is a serious problem in developing countries that lack effective water treatment systems."

Between outbreaks of the disease, the cholera bacteria survive in aquatic environments, where they occur in two distinct growth modes: as free-living cells and as attached cells known as biofilms that form on surfaces. The biofilm growth mode may be a survival strategy that enables the bacteria to persist in aquatic environments.

Yildiz is studying the molecular and genetic basis of biofilm formation in V. cholerae, as well as how the bacteria respond to environmental changes.

"The questions we are asking are, What is the environmental life cycle of the pathogen? What are the environmental factors that modulate biofilm formation? And how do those factors relate to the timing of epidemics?" Yildiz said.

This is the second year in a row that a new faculty member in the Environmental Toxicology Department has received a New Scholars award from the Ellison Medical Foundation. Assistant Professor Karen Ottemann received the award last year. Both faculty were recruited to build up an area of expertise in environmental pathogens in the Department of Environmental Toxicology at UCSC.

The Ellison Medical Foundation, established and supported by Lawrence J. Ellison, supports two areas of research: aging and global infectious diseases. The foundation particularly wishes to stimulate new creative research that might not be funded by traditional sources or that is often underfunded in the United States.



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