Title: Research Associate Professor
College/Institute: Environmental and Global Health
Research interests: Microbiology and molecular biology, with a special interest in rugose polysaccharides, and environmental persistence of Vibrios
Curriculum vitaePDF
Hobbies: Listening to music, playing tennis, soccer and basketball, and watching movies

Dr. Afsar Ali came to EPI in the summer of 2008 with a wealth of knowledge in microbiology and expertise in the study of pathogenic Vibrios originating in aquatic environments. The genus Vibrio includes three species that cause disease in people: Vibrio choleraV. parahemoliticus and V. vulnificus. While the first and second species listed primarily cause cholera and gastroenteritis, respectively, V. vulnificus is implicated in severe septicemia and wound infection in patients with pre-existing underlying diseases that have weakened their immune system. People primarily acquire these bacteria by eating raw or undercooked food and sea food, or by drinking or coming into contact with contaminated water.

Numerous studies have focused on the pathogenic mechanisms of Vibrios, resulting in a more complete understanding of how Vibrios cause diseases in people. However, factors and processes that promote their persistence in aquatic reservoirs over time — sometime for decades — have yet to be revealed. Understanding this, and similar factors and processes in food, will help researchers like Ali to design intervention strategies aimed at combating Vibrioinfections.

Dr. Ali’s current work focuses upon understanding genetic and adaptive mechanisms of a variant of V. cholerae known as the “rugose” form. This variant is characterized by the organism’s copious production of exopolysaccharide, a substance that changes the bacterium’s outer appearance from a smooth coating to one that is deeply furrowed and rugged. This rugged polysaccharide is a hard outer coating which allows the bacterium to resist harsh environmental conditions, including chlorine, serum killing, and oxidative and osmotic stresses. All three pathogenic Vibrio species have a rugose variant form characterized an exopolysaccharide coating, but this form is absent in the non-disease-causing Vibrio species. Dr. Ali seeks to identify genetic mechanisms allowing a smooth Vibrio to switch to its “rugose” form, and whether this variant form increases a Vibrio’s survival advantage in aquatic and food reservoirs.

Dr. Ali plans for future research to delve into whether climate change and warming environments may contribute to the emergence of more pathogenic Vibrios, or if it may increase their survival advantage in food and aquatic reservoirs. He works in the U.S. and Bangladesh, and in other areas of the globe.

Contact information:
Emerging Pathogens Institute
University of Florida
P.O. Box 100009
Gainesville, Florida 32610-0009
Voice: (352) 273-7984
Fax: (352) 273-9430

Email: afsarali@phhp.ufl.edu