Inside the lab of Dr. Paul Keim

ByNorthern Arizona University

Published: 2013-05-17 19:31:59


Paul Keim, Ph.D., the Cowden Endowed Chair of Microbiology at Northern Arizona University (NAU), the Director of Pathogen Genomics at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and research affiliate at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) .  He was named the  2012 Bioscience Researcher of the Year by AZBio on October 23, 2012 at the 7th Annual AZBio Awards. 

 Dr. Keim was nominated by members of the Arizona Bioscience Community and selected by an independent, statewide panel of leaders for this recognition of his research and innovation in the field of pathogen genomics and microbiology.Past Recipients of the Bioscience Resarchers of the Year Award include: Dr. Jessica Langbaum of the Banner Alzheimer’s Research Institute (2011), Milton Sommerfeld, Ph.D. and Qiang Hu, Ph.D., Arizona State University (2010), Bruce Rittman, Ph.D., Director, Center for Environmental Biotechnology, Biodesign Institute, ASU (2009), Rod Wing, Ph.D., Director of the Arizona Genomics Institute at the University of Arizona. (2008), Roy Curtiss, III, Ph.D, The Biodesign Institute, Director, Infectious Diseases and Vaccinology (2007).Dr. Keim’s research focuses on the advancement of forensics and genomics analysis of bacterial pathogens. You may know this globally recognized researcher as ” Doctor Anthrax” (a moniker he gained after 9-11) but there is a lot more to the work Dr. Keim and his team focus on every day.

At TGen-North. Dr. Keim and his Pathogen Genomics team  focus on three core missions:
  • Bolstering of biodefense through improved forensic analysis,
  • Understanding interactions between man and microbe to develop new therapeutics and diagnostics that will alleviate the human ailments caused by dangerous pathogens, and
  • Developing an improved understanding of disease movement to reduce and control the incidence of disease.
The Pathogen Genomics Program is a joint program between the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and the Northern Arizona University (NAU), which results in a unified approach to protecting America against dangerous pathogens, in particular Bacillus anthracis (anthrax).
While infectious agents have a long history as biological weapons, these agents pose significant danger to the United States, now more than ever. Generally, the biothreat agents themselves do not threaten our country’s overall public health, however these agents do have unique attributes that facilitate their weaponization. Forensic analysis is particularly valuable as evidenced by the 1993 anthrax attack in Japan that was successfully linked to Aum Shinrikyo, the Japanese doomsday cult, by my laboratory at NAU. During the 2001 anthrax investigations, my lab was called upon to play a critical role in providing the US military and intelligence community with cutting edge assays for biological weapons. We successfully delivered assays that were far superior to the assays used previously and available through the military labs. This was critical to both the investigations and the clean-up efforts on the east coast.Building on the existing work at NAU and the genomics tools at TGen, the Pathogen Genomics Program will provide high-resolution genomic forensic analysis of biothreat pathogenic agents such as Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), Yersinia pestis (plague), Francisella tularensis (tularemia), Burkholderia mallei (glanders), Brucella melitensis (brucellosis), and Coxiella burnett (Q fever). These are considered the most dangerous of the bacterial bioterrorism and bioweapons agents.   — Dr. Paul Keim
He has been faculty member at NAU since 1988 after postdoctoral studies at the University of Utah and Iowa State University. He received his PhD in Plant Biochemistry from the University of Kansas in 1981. Dr. Keim is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and a member or the National Science Advisory Board on Biodefense (NSABB). He led and wrote the ASM recommendations and report on Microbial Forensics in 2002. This lead to the founding of the FBI’s Scientific Working Group on Microbial Forensics, which he has played a major role in DNA based methods. His research capitalizes upon genomic data to understand the population structure of dangerous pathogens: anthrax, plague, tularemia, glanders, melioidosis, Q-fever. The applications of this knowledge are directly applicable to microbial forensics, molecular epidemiology and disease diagnostics. Following the anthrax letter attacks, it was Dr. Keim’s laboratory that filled a critical void in supporting the USG efforts to respond to this bioterrorism event. It was his laboratory that identified the Ames “anthrax” strain in the 2001 letter attacks and continued analyzing the forensic evidence under contract to the FBI and DHS. Dr. Keim is recognized as one the world’s leaders in anthrax research. 

 The Keim Lab at Northern Arizona University houses one the largest “anthrax” strain collections in the world. 

Categories: Thought Leaders
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