headshot of Dr. Jan-Ulrik Dahl
Dr. Jan-Ulrik Dahl

Illinois State University’s Dr. Jan-Ulrik Dahl was awarded a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to uncover the secrets of an insidious bacteria.  

The grant for more than $440,000, issued through the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will fund the research in Dahl’s lab to study a type of E. coli bacteria that is growing more resistant to the body’s natural defense mechanisms.  

“Once immune cells detect foreign bacteria that don’t have any business to be in our body, they produce a ‘bleach,’” said Dahl, an assistant professor of microbiology. The “bleach” produced in the body is known as hypochlorous acid (HOCl). “It’s the active ingredient of household bleach. It is produced as the most abundant and most potent antimicrobial in our innate immune defense.”*   

Dahl’s lab discovered that uropathogenic E. coli—the main cause of urinary tract infections—are significantly more resistant to the internally produced bleach than E. coli in the intestines. The three-year grant will help fund the ongoing studies, including two graduate students and three undergraduate students. “We want to study the molecular secrets of increased bleach resistance in more detail,” said Dahl.  

Along with the research advances, the grant will also provide students professional avenues. “This is an excellent opportunity for my students to excel in research, develop all the skills required for the next step in their career, and to expand their network when they present their findings at local, national, and international conferences,” said Dahl.  

Find out more about Dahl’s lab.  

* Dahl stresses that household bleach will not act as a method to kill off internal E.coli, and should not be consumed.