Rasika M. Harshey

  • Professor
  • Lorene Morrow Kelley Professorship in Microbiology
  • Molecular Biosciences
Profile image of Rasika M. Harshey

Contact Information


We have two major research interests:

(1) Repair of Mu DNA transposition events. Transposition is not complete until short gaps created in the target on either side of the transposed element are repaired, yet how this happens is still not known. We are currently elucidating the mechanism and regulation of this process. Transposable phage Mu has played a central role in the development of the mobile DNA element field. In vitro transposition assays, first developed for Mu, served as a blueprint for elucidation of the phosphoryl transfer chemistry in a variety of transposable elements. When the mechanism of HIV DNA integration was discovered to be similar to that of Mu, high-throughput integration assays modeled after the Mu in vitro system, led to the development and marketing of the HIV integrase inhibitor Raltegravir. The repair assays we are developing will be equally important for obtaining insights into this integral aspect of transposition, and should present a potent new target for drug development. Thus, knowledge of the repair process is not only necessary to fully understand the biology of transposition, but can be potentially used to block deleterious transposition events. 

(2) The flagellar motor as a sensor. In E. coli and Salmonella, chemosensory information from the environment is detected by chemoreceptors and transduced to the flagellar motor, modulating its CW/CCW bias, and enabling the bacterium to seek optimal habitats. Here, the motor is at the output end of the sensory response. However, in a large number of flagellated bacteria, the motor itself perceives a ‘surface’ signal, that informs the bacterium of its environmental niche. In response, the bacteria can decide to grow more flagella and move or ‘swarm’ over the surface, or secrete polysaccharides and make sedentary biofilms. These responses play important roles in bacterial infection, surface colonization, persistence and pathogenesis. We are currently elucidating this sensory mechanism. We are also studying why swarming bacteria have a higher tolerance to antibiotics, and using our knowledge of key motility mechanisms to design new antimicrobial targets.

Research Areas

  • Infectious Disease, Immunology and Microbiology
  • Health Promotion or Disease Prevention
  • Molecular Biology or Genetics

Fields of Interest

  • Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Disease
  • Molecular Biology and Genetics

Centers and Institutes

  • John Ring LaMontagne Center for Infectious Disease
  • Interdisciplinary Life Sciences Graduate Programs