Cynthia Silveira

Asst. Professor

Phone:
(305) 284-6566
Locator Code:
0421

 
About

Teaching Interests

I will be teaching General Biology (BIL150) in the Fall and The Biology of Phages (BIL385-J Special Topics in Biology) in the Spring. My goal in General Biology is that students understand basic principles of molecular, cellular, genetic, and organismal biology. By building upon this knowledge, students can interpret patterns observed in living systems and develop a roadmap to examine more complex levels of organization in biology. The Biology of Phages is a capstone course for students in Biology and biomedical sciences. In this course, I introduce the molecular biology, ecology, and clinical relevance of prokaryotic viruses by discussing primary literature on the most current topics in phage research. In these classes, I guide the students through the process of building their own research project, acquiring real genomic data produced by research labs around the world, and analyzing it with cutting-edge bioinformatics tools
Career

Education

2015Ph.D. Genetics Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
2011M.Sc. Biological Chemistry Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
2009B.S. Marine Biology Fluminense Federal University

Professional Experience

2020 - Assistant Professor, University of Miami
2018 - 2019Research Assistant Professor, San Diego State University
2016 - 2017Postdoctoral Researcher, San Diego State University
2012 - 2014Lecturer, Fluminense Federal University
Research

Research Interests

My lab studies a long-known but poorly appreciated member of all microbiomes: bacteriophages. Phages, for short, are viruses that infect bacteria and are the most abundant and diverse biological entities on the planet. Yet, we have only scratched the surface of their biological significance: 50 to 90 % of phages genomes sequenced to date have no known function. The research in my lab brings mechanistic approaches from single-species frameworks to complex marine and human-associated microbial communities by applying observational, experimental, and bioinformatics tools to probe the impact of phages on microbiomes.

An understudied type of phage infection is lysogeny, when the phage integrates its genome into the bacterial DNA instead of killing the bacterial cell to produce more viral particles. When that occurs, the phage ceases being a predator to the bacteria, and becomes a commensal – or even mutualistic symbiont. How the phage and the bacteria cross the continuum of symbiotic interactions spanning antagonistic, neutral and positive interactions is a major biological question that drives the research in my lab.

Most of our research is conducted in coral reefs, where the increase in lysogeny causes bacterial biomass accumulation, due to microbes not being killed by the viruses. High lysogeny also increases the transfer of genes that turn bacteria pathogenic because of the genome integration. Both mechanisms are harmful to corals and can push entire ecosystems over the edge in the face of stressors. Or lab develops field and laboratory experiments to identify the circumstances facilitating the rise of lysogeny and to find approaches to minimize its negative effects on corals.

Phages are also integral members of the human microbiome. They can protect the human-associated community from invasion by killing pathogenic bacteria, but can also contribute to bacterial virulence through lysogeny and gene transfer. Our lab is interested in how this duality plays a role in the progression of chronic polymicrobial infections, and whether phages can be used as weapons against multi-drug-resistant bacteria through phage therapy.

 

Phages are double-edged swords, and the rules that govern their ecological interactions with bacteria and their symbiosis with metazoans are the major open questions in biology that inspire the research in our lab.