New Research Center Targets Chlamydia’s Climate and Chromosomes

Friday, September 4 2009

MOSCOW, Idaho - Scientists from the University of Idaho are teaming up with colleagues around the world to wage a genetic war against the most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the western world: chlamydia.

The five-year, $12.5 million project will establish the nation’s fifth Sexually Transmitted Infections Cooperative Research Center. Funded by the National Institutes for Health, the center will use genetic sequencing to learn more about the infection.

The center is headed by the University of Maryland and is supported by the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute, the F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine of the Uniformed Services University, the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, and the University of Idaho.

“We have a winning team of researchers with expertise in complimentary disciplines,” said Larry Forney, professor of biological sciences at the University of Idaho. “The grant supports the combination of these into a cooperative research center with multiple projects all focusing on the same basic problem: chlamydia.”

Each of the center’s projects deals with the genetics of either the infection-causing bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis or the human habitat in which it thrives, the reproductive tract.

One study will, as Forney puts it, “Watch the arms race between the bacteria and the host’s immune system.” Scientists will track the bacteria’s DNA as the infection is passed from one generation of guinea pigs to the next. Over several iterations, scientists will look for mutations in the bacteria that may allow it to defeat the host’s immune system or become resistant to antibiotics.

Another project will use genetics to identify the microorganisms present in the human vagina and urethra before, during, and after a chlamydia infection. Clinicians also will take information such as age, weight, diet, sexual practices, birth control methods and hygiene. The data then will be searched for trends and factors that may put an individual at a greater risk of infection.

The projects will collect a massive amount of data. It will be the University of Idaho’s job to make sense of it all, which will be difficult because human physiology is inherently complex and every individual is different.

“Someone has to analyze all of this data and try to understand associations and possibly the cause and effect,” said Zaid Abdo, professor of mathematics, statistics, bioinformatics and computational biology at the University of Idaho. “But you have to figure out where the gray comes in. It’s not completely black and white.”

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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 130 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit

Media Contact: Ken Kingery, University Communications, 208-885-9156,

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit