A researcher who specializes in studying how two common strains of bacteria achieve their potency has joined the University of Florida College of Dentistry. José A. Lemos, Ph.D., an associate professor of oral biology, was recruited from the University of Rochester as part of UF’s preeminence initiative.
For Lemos, it’s also a return to his academic roots: He worked as a postdoctoral associate and research assistant professor in the department of oral biology from 2001 to 2007 before becoming an assistant professor at the University of Rochester.
While in Rochester, Lemos continued to collaborate with his one-time mentor, Robert Burne, Ph.D., a distinguished professor and chair of the department of oral biology. When the opportunity to return to UF arose, Lemos said there was much to like.
“The prospect for different collaborations across disciplines was very appealing. The growth that I could see in the years since I left has been very impressive,” he said.
In particular, Lemos was struck by how the College of Dentistry, a part of UF Health, interacts with the College of Medicine and other health sciences.
“Dentistry is part of the biomedical sciences, and it makes a big difference to be in a place where everything is well-integrated. It creates more opportunities for collaborative research,” Lemos said.
Lemos returned to UF in August. He will continue studying the molecular factors that give the Streptococcus mutans and Enterococcus faecalis bacteria the ability to cause disease and inflammation. The streptococcus bacterium plays a major role in tooth decay as well as in inflammation that affects the inner layers of the heart. The enterococcus bacterium is a leading cause of hospital-acquired infections. Lemos said much of his work focuses on understanding how those bacteria manage to thrive in adverse conditions and studying ways to thwart their survival.
Along with his wife, Jacqueline Abranches, Lemos is also studying how a particular protein may allow the streptococcus bacterium to contribute to the development of heart disease. Abranches is an assistant professor of oral biology who also joined the College of Dentistry in August.
Burne said one of Lemos’ most significant accomplishments was discovering that some bacteria have additional enzymes that play a crucial role in the way cells grow and differentiate. The finding is important because it provided new insight into how growth-modulating enzymes within bacteria respond to antibiotics, according to Burne. That has important implications for finding new biological targets among drug-resistant bacterium such as enterococcus, he said.
The discovery impressed Burne, but he wasn’t surprised that it came from Lemos.
“He is always looking for new projects. I have always known him to push the envelope with new technologies and new ideas,” Burne said.
“We are very pleased and excited to have Dr. Lemos return to our college,” said Isabel Garcia, D.D.S., M.P.H., dean of the UF College of Dentistry. “His work has tremendous potential to improve human health and by nature his research is highly collaborative.”
Garcia anticipates that Lemos’ collaborations will go well beyond the College of Dentistry to potentially include work with researchers in the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, the UF College of Medicine and those across campus who are studying the chemical processes of metabolism, known as metabolomics. Lemos’ lab will focus on learning more about the streptococcus bacterium’s ability to survive and do harm in the oral cavity and to the cardiovascular system, Garcia said.
Lemos has a bachelor’s degree in biology from the St. Ursula University in Brazil and master’s and doctoral degrees in microbiology and immunology from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
While his primary focus is research, Lemos said he is looking forward to teaching an oral biology course next year. Lemos’ versatility as a scientist is another reason he was recruited to UF, Burne said.
“He has a strong commitment to nurturing students. Over the years, he mentored a group of undergraduates who went on to be successful,” Burne said.
Lemos was hired in one of the focus areas of UF Preeminence, the university’s vision to become an international leader in more than two dozen fields including health, agriculture, computing and education.
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