Elia Hefner, Ph.D.

eeelia@email.unc.edu

    Microbiology & Immunology

Education

  • University of Michigan - Biological Chemistry

Mentors

    Miriam Braunstein, Ph.D.

Biography

Over the course of my undergraduate and graduate careers, I learned that research and education complement one another. It became my goal to teach at every opportunity. From teaching a class to explaining a concept to a graduate rotation student, I used each chance to practice communicating scientific ideas in meaningful way. After my first summer as an undergraduate research mentor, I realized that I enjoyed interacting with undergraduates and seeing them grow as critical thinkers and scientists. The interactions I have had with undergraduates coupled with the excellent mentorship I received as an undergraduate heavily influenced my career aspirations, and eventually led to my desire to teach biochemistry at a primarily undergraduate institution.

At the University of Michigan, I completed my graduate work in the laboratory of Dr. Carol A. Fierke, where I studied substrate specificity of mammalian protein prenyltransferases. These enzymes have very broad substrate specificity, with over 1000 potential human substrates. Interestingly, there are two cases in the literature where human prenyltransferases are hijacked by bacteria during infection. This phenomenon led me to study substrate specificity through the lens of potential bacterial substrates to determine if prenyltransferase hijacking could be a general strategy for intracellular pathogens. My work suggests the substrate specificity of prenyltransferases is broad enough such that many potential bacterial proteins could be prenylated during infection. This work also suggests the use of host-targeted antibacterial agents could be an alternative to traditional pathogen-targeted antiobiotics to treat drug-resistant bacterial infections.

As a SPIRE scholar, I have joined the laboratory of Miriam Braunstein. The main focus of the Braunstein group is characterizing Mycobacteria tuberculosis transport systems, identifying their protein substrates, and understanding their specific roles in virulence. I am currently exploring a project involving Mce transporters and their involvement in lipid secretion and recycling.