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Robert M.Q. Shanks, PhD

Dr. Robert Shanks


Fax: 412-647-5880
1015 Eye and Ear Institute
203 Lothrop Street


Post-doctoral Fellowship, Dartmouth Medical School

PhD, Tufts Sackler School of Biomedical Sciences

BA, Alfred University

Academic Affiliation(s)

Associate Professor, Department of Ophthalmology
Associate Professor, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Basic Research Director, Charles T. Campbell Laboratory of Ophthalmic Microbiology


Basic mechanistic research:  My group’s current studies are aimed at elucidating a novel regulatory network that controls secondary metabolite production, biofilm formation and exoenzyme production by the bacterium Serratia marcescens.  This ocular and nosocomial pathogen causes vision-threatening keratitis and deadly hospital infections, yet can produce valuable natural compounds that have medical and industrial applications.  S. marcescens is also an excellent model system to study mechanisms of infection by opportunistic pathogens. 

Through genetic screens we have identified a number of novel transcription factors that together control the production of virulence factors and natural compounds.  We are using molecular genetics, biochemistry, and proteomics to elucidate the mechanisms by which these transcriptional regulators interact with each other and with their target genes, and the importance of these factors in mediating pathogenesis and production of valuable natural compounds.  By understanding the function and control of these regulators we will be able to mediate virulence, host-pathogen interactions, and design non-virulent strains that produce desired compounds.  Similar processes are studied in other ocular pathogens, particularly Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus.  These studies are funded by an NIH R01 grant and Research to Prevent Blindness award. 

Translational research:  We have worked with Daniel Kadouri at UMDNJ, George O’Toole at Dartmouth Medical School, and Xinyu Liu at the University of Pittsburgh to develop or characterize novel antimicrobials.  Furthermore, as the Basic Science Director of the Charles T. Campbell Laboratory of Ophthalmic Microbiology I have been involved in numerous projects to test and develop new tests for antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory drugs using in vitro and in vivo models, as well as clinical microbiology projects to develop PCR based detection assays for ocular pathogens.  Other translational studies included molecular tool development for manipulating genomes and expressing genes in bacteria.  These tools take advantage of the native recombination system of Saccharomyces cerevisiae, and are used by many laboratories throughout the world.

Lab Personnel

Nicholas Stella, Lab Manager
Kimberly Brothers, Post-doctoral researcher

Areas of Interest

Bacterial eye infections, biofilms, transcription factors, host-pathogen interactions, natural products


Shanks R. M, Stella N. A, Lahr R. M, Wang S, Veverka T. I, Kowalski R. P, and Liu X. Serratamolide is a hemolytic factor produced by Serratia marcescens. PLoS One. 7: e36398. |  View Abstract

Shanks R. M, Dashiff A, Alster J. S, and Kadouri D. E. Isolation and identification of a bacteriocin with antibacterial and antibiofilm activity from Citrobacter freundii. Arch Microbiol. 194: 575-587. |  View Abstract

Fender J. E, Bender C. M, Stella N. A, Lahr R. M, Kalivoda E. J, and Shanks R. M. Serratia marcescens quinoprotein glucose dehydrogenase activity mediates medium acidification and inhibition of prodigiosin production by glucose. Appl Environ Microbiol. 78: 6225-6235. |  View Abstract

Wingard J. B, Romanowski E. G, Kowalski R. P, Mah F. S, Ling Y, Bilonick R. A, and Shanks R. M. A novel cell-associated protection assay demonstrates the ability of certain antibiotics to protect ocular surface cell lines from subsequent clinical Staphylococcus aureus challenge. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 55: 3788-3794. |  View Abstract

Kalivoda E. J, Stella N. A, Aston M. A, Fender J. E, Thompson P. P, Kowalski R. P, and Shanks R. M. Cyclic AMP negatively regulates prodigiosin production by Serratia marcescens. Res Microbiol. 161: 158-167. |  View Abstract

Kalivoda E. J, Stella N. A, O'Dee D. M, Nau G. J, and Shanks R. M. The cyclic AMP-dependent catabolite repression system of Serratia marcescens mediates biofilm formation through regulation of type 1 fimbriae. Appl Environ Microbiol |  View Abstract

Shanks R. M, Stella N. A, Kalivoda E. J, Doe M. R, O'Dee D. M, Lathrop K. L, Guo F. L, and Nau G. J. A Serratia marcescens OxyR homolog mediates surface attachment and biofilm formation. J Bacteriol. 189: 7262-7272. |  View Abstract