2020 NIGMS Director's Early Career Investigator Lecture

Microbes, Metals, Music, and Lessons in Disproving Your Hypothesis​

Headshot of Speaker, Melissa A. Wilson Photo Credit: Mari Cleven.

Michael D. L. Johnson, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Immunobiology
Assistant Professor, BIO5 Institute
Assistant Professor, Valley Fever Center for Excellence
University of Arizona​

Lecture followed by Q&A session

Zoom and NIH Videocast
Start Date:
10/14/2020 1:00 PM ET
End Date:
10/14/2020 2:00 PM ET
Live Video Icon.Watch 2020 ​Lecture​

Research Summary

All living things need metals to survive. At the host/pathogen interface, bacteria must acquire those metals from within. While host and microbe battle over metals like iron and manganese, not​ all host utilized metals are desirable for bacteria. In fact, copper is largely toxic to them; a fact that is exploited by the host. As such, bacteria devote significant resources to maintain metal homeostasis through systems that address the stress of excess or deficiency. Here, Dr. Johnson will look at copper stress affected and overcoming systems, how bacteria use metals to perceive their environment, and how we can take advantage of it all to develop new therapeutics.

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Michael D. L. Johnson is a proud product of the Chicago Public School System. He received an A.B. in Music from Duke University and “smoothly” transitioned to obtaining his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After completing his dissertation in bacterial motility and attachment, he went to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the Department of Infectious Disease to study how bacteria process nutrients, specifically metals, during bacterial infections. He then worked in the Department of Immunology studying newly discovered ways of how the body eliminates harmful pathogens. During his postdoctoral fellowship, he also founded ​Science Sound Bites, a science podcast for kids.

Currently, Dr. Johnson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Arizona in the Department of Immunobiology where he studies mechanisms of metal toxicity in bacteria. In short, he’s killin’ it with copper. He is active in science outreach through events like DNA Day, The BIO5 Postdoctoral Fellowship Program​, The National Summer Undergraduate Research Project, in minority scientific affairs through the American Society for Microbiology, and online through Twitter @blacksciblog.


Henrik O’Brien, Joseph W. Alvin, Sanjay V. Menghani, Yamil Sanchez-Rosario, Koenraad Van Doorslaer, Michael D. L. Johnson. Rules of Expansion: an Updated Consensus Operator Site for the CopR-CopY Family of Bacterial Copper Exporter System Repressors. American Society for Microbiology Journals. DOI 10.1128/mSphere.00411-20

Miranda J. Neubert, Elizabeth A. Dahlmann, Andrew Ambrose, Michael D. L. Johnson. Copper Chaperone CupA and Zinc Control CopY Regulation of the Pneumococcal cop Operon. American Society for Microbiology Journals. DOI 10.1128/mSphere.00372-17