Denisse Leyton was awarded her PhD in 2008 for a study undertaken at Monash University on autotransporters, a superfamily of bacterial outer membrane proteins typically found in bacterial pathogens responsible for infectious diseases such as diarrhea, whooping cough, cholera, chlamydia, and bacterial meningitis. Here she identified two novel autotransporter proteins and determined how their function contributed to bacterial virulence. Denisse then moved to the University of Birmingham (UK) for a post-doctoral position where her research efforts focused on the mechanisms underpinning autotransporter secretion. She was attracted back to Monash University in 2011 under an ARC Super Science Fellowship scheme to research the nanotechnology of autotransporter secretion. Denisse was awarded the 2012 Bede Morris Fellowship for Early Career Research from the Australian Academy of Science to travel to the Institut Pasteur in Paris for 12 weeks to acquire knowledge and expertise of a variety of biochemical and biophysical methods that she has applied to her current research. In 2015, Denisse took up a joint appointment between The Australian National University Research School of Biology and Medical School where she will teach Microbiology to medical students. At The ANU, her research group will focus on understanding the mechanisms of autotransporter assembly, their function, and on their reengineering for biotechnological applications.
Autotransporters are a large family of virulence proteins produced by Gram-negative bacterial pathogens responsible for infectious diseases such as diarrhoea, whooping cough, cholera, chlamydia, and bacterial meningitis. Autotransporters help establish infection and contribute to disease by performing a vast array of effector functions, including adhesion and invasion of, and cytotoxicity towards eukaryotic host cells, biofilm formation, and disruption of the host immune system. Our research is focused on understanding how autotransporters are assembled into bacterial outer membranes, and how they function to mediate infection and disease once they get there. We are also interested in reengineering autotransporters as recombinant protein production devices for use in basic research, biotechnology, or pharmaceutical applications.