Cierra Birch


What degree are you pursuing?

I am pursuing a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Who is (are) your advisors?

My advisor is Peter Zuber with additional guidance from committee members Margo Haygood, Michael Bartlett, and Michiko Nakano.

What is the focus of your research?

My subject organisms are Bacillus subtilis, a non-pathogenic soil bacterium and Bacillus anthracis, the causative agent of the infectious disease called Anthrax. Exerting oxidative stress is one mechanism of antimicrobial activity harbored by some household cleaning products, some antibiotics, and our own immune system. In response to toxic oxidants, bacteria like the species I study have evolved to modulate their physiology and genetic regulation to survive. I utilize molecular biology techniques to study the mechanism by which a global transcriptional regulator that is present in both species activates genes involved in oxidative stress response.

How will your research benefit society?

Understanding how bacteria persist under oxidative stress conditions (e.g. in host macrophages during infection) is essential for developing antimicrobial agents and advancing infectious disease control. Also, many core elements of gene regulation shared by prokaryotes and eukaryotes allow microbiology research to contribute to the foundation what we understand about our own genetics. Finally, the versatility of the tools I employ in my lab can be applied to a wide variety of subjects including cancer cell lines and human transcription factors.


How have you taken advantage of professional development opportunities through OHSU and the Institute of Environmental Health?

I have presented my own research and stayed current on work done in other labs by attending various scientific conferences through my graduate career. I am currently mentoring a high school intern who wants to pursue a career in the science or medical field. Also, I look forward to gaining teaching experience by planning and presenting a Microbiology course in the fall through Saturday Academy.

What do you plan to do with your degree?

I plan to return to the east coast for a post-doctoral fellowship in a productive lab. I have interests in teaching but also enjoy bench work. I will utilize my degree and passion for the biosciences to become marketable for various opportunities in industry or academic research settings.