Griffitts, Joel

Microbiology & Molecular Biology

Email: 7qvlsnGi¬Ä|5lk|  (Email Form)


3131  LSB
Provo, UT 84602
(801) 422-7997


Curriculum Vitae

 Teaching Interests
Molecular Biology, Bacterial Genetics, and Scientific Writing
 Research Interests
My research group seeks to understand communication and compatibility between bacteria and eukaryotic host organisms, with an emphasis on plant-associated microbes. We also study natural variation in bacterial gene essentiality, with a goal to understand how the essentiality of particular genes is dictated by genomic context. We are also developing new methods for antibiotic discovery that capitalize on massively parallel DNA sequencing and computational analysis.

One project concerns the chemical dialogue between the nitrogen-fixing bacterium Sinorhizobium meliloti and legume hosts of the genus Medicago. We are learning that legume cells produce symbiosis-inducing peptides that drive bacteria into a symbiotic state; however, the bacteria may be less responsive to these peptide signals (and therefore less symbiotically compatible) due to plasmid-encoded compatibility factors that are under active investigation. Our current models emphasize active peptide degradation and differential peptide uptake as primary mechanisms.

A second project is focused on identifying essential genes in bacteria, using massively parallel transposon insertion sequencing. We are interested in which genes are essential for viability, which genes are conditionally essential depending on environmental or genomic context, and we are developing high-resolution technologies for investigating how essential genes may be truncated or split apart while still allowing functionality.

A third project is focused on antibiotic synthesis and mechanism of action. In one facet of this study we are trying to understand the synthesis of thiopeptide antibiotics, with the aim of using this natural pathway as a template for developing new antimicrobial compounds. In a second facet of the project we are developing powerful methods for screening through millions of peptide-based molecules for novel antibiotics.
 Honors and Awards
  • BYU College of Life Sciences : College Outstanding Research Award
  • National Science Foundation : NSF CAREER Award
  • National Science Foundation : NSF Mid-Career Investigator Award
  • Brigham Young University : BYU Young Scholar Award
  • The White House : Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers
  • HHW Foundation : Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellowship
  • NIH : Ruth L. Kirschtein Postdoctoral Fellowship (declined)
 Courses Taught

Summer 2018
  • MMBIO 695R: Research Section 008
  • MMBIO 699R: Master's Thesis Section 008
Winter 2018
  • MMBIO 494R: Mentored Research Section 008
  • MMBIO 663: Articulating Science Section 001
  • MMBIO 692R: Research in Progress Section 001
  • MMBIO 695R: Research Section 008
  • MMBIO 699R: Master's Thesis Section 008
Fall 2017
  • MMBIO 360: Microbial Genetics Section 001
  • MMBIO 494R: Mentored Research Section 8
  • MMBIO 661: Molecular Genetics in Practice Section 001
  • MMBIO 692R: Research in Progress Section 001
  • MMBIO 695R: Research Section 8
  • MMBIO 699R: Master's Thesis Section 8
Summer 2017
  • MMBIO 494R: Mentored Research Section 8

Selected Publications

Journal Articles

Olson MA, Siebach TW, Griffitts JS, Wilson E, Erickson DL. 2018. Genome-Wide Identification of Fitness Factors in Mastitis-Associated Escherichia coli. 84(2).  doi:10.1128/AEM.02190-17

Bennallack PR, Griffitts JS. 2017. Elucidating and engineering thiopeptide biosynthesis. World J Microbiol Biotechnol. 33(6):119.  doi:10.1007/s11274-017-2283-9

Arnold MF, Shabab M, Penterman J, Boehme KL, Griffitts JS, Walker GC. 2017. Genome-wide sensitivity analysis of the microsymbiont Sinorhizobium meliloti to symbiotically important, defensin-like host peptides. mBio. 8(4):e01060-17.  doi:10.1128/mBio.01060-17

Yang S, Wang Q, Federova E, Liu J, Quin Q, Zheng Q, Price PA, Pan H, Wang D, Griffitts JS, et al. 2017. Microsymbiont discrimination mediated by a host-secreted peptide in Medicago truncatula. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA. 114(26):6848-6853.  doi:10.1073/pnas.1700460114

Bewley KD, Bennallack PR, Burlingame MA, Robison RA, Griffitts JS, Miller SM. 2016. Capture of micrococcin biosynthetic intermediates reveals C-terminal processing as an obligatory step for in vivo maturation. 113(44):12450-12455.  doi:10.1073/pnas.1612161113

Shabab M, Arnold MF, Penterman J, Wommack AJ, Bocker HT, Price PA, Griffitts JS, Nolan EM, Walker GC. 2016. Disulfide cross-linking influences symbiotic activities of nodule peptide NCR247. 113(36):10157-62.  doi:10.1073/pnas.1610724113

Bennallack PR, Bewley KD, Burlingame MA, Robison RA, Miller SM, Griffitts JS. 2016. Reconstitution and Minimization of a Micrococcin Biosynthetic Pathway in Bacillus subtilis. 198(18):2431-8.  doi:10.1128/JB.00396-16

Price PA, Tanner HR, Dillon BA, Shabab M, Walker GC, Griffitts JS. 2015. Rhizobial peptidase HrrP cleaves host-encoded signaling peptides and mediates symbiotic compatibility. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 112(49):15244-9.  doi:10.1073/pnas.1417797112

Bennallack PR, Burt SR, Heder MJ, Robison RA, Griffitts JS. 2014. Characterization of a Novel Plasmid-Borne Thiopeptide Gene Cluster in Staphylococcus epidermidis Strain 115. Journal of Bacteriology. 196(24):4344-4350.  doi:10.1128/JB.02243-14

VanYperen RD, Orton TS, Griffitts JS. 2014. Genetic analysis of signal integration by the Sinorhizobium meliloti sensor kinase FeuQ. Microbiology. (pub ahead of print).

Crook MB, Draper AL, Guillory RJ, Griffitts JS. 2013. The Sinorhizobium meliloti essential porin RopA1 is a target for numerous bacteriophages. Journal of Bacteriology. 195(16):3663-71. <website> doi:23749981

Crook MB, Linsay DB, Biggs MB, Bentley JS, Price JC, Clement SC, Clement MJ, Long SR, Griffitts JS. 2012. Rhizobium Plasmids that Cause Impaired Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation and Enhanced Host Invasion. Journal of Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions. 25(8):1026-33.

Harrison CL, Crook MB, Peco G, Long SR, Griffitts JS. 2011. Employing site-specific recombination for conditional genetic analysis in Sinorhizobium meliloti. Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 77(12):3916-22.

Wang D, Griffitts JS, Starker C, Federova E, Limpens E, Ivanov S, Bisseling T, Long SR. 2010. A nodule specific protein secretory pathway required for nitrogen-fixing symbiosis. Science. 327:1126-9.

Carlyon RE, Ryther JL, VanYperen RD, Griffitts JS. 2010. FeuN, a novel modulator of two-component signalling identified in Sinorhizobium meliloti. Molecular Microbiology. 77:170-82.

Steele TT, Fowler CW, Griffitts JS. 2009. Control of gluconate utilization in Sinorhizobium meliloti. Journal of Bacteriology. 191:1355-8.

Griffitts JS, Carlyon RE, Erickson JH, Moulton JL, Barnett MJ, Toman CJ, Long SR. 2008. A Sinorhizobium meliloti osmosensory two-component system required for cyclic glucan export and symbiosis. Molecular Microbiology. 69:479-490.

Griffitts JS, Long SR. 2008. A symbiotic mutant of Sinorhizobium meliloti reveals a novel genetic pathway involving succinoglycan biosynthetic functions. Molecular Microbiology. 67:1292-306.

Barrows BD, Griffitts JS, Aroian RV. 2007. Resistance is non-futile: Resistance to Cry5B in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. J Invertebr Pathol. 95:198-200.

Capello M, Bungiro RD, Harrison LM, Bischof LJ, Griffitts JS, Barrows BD, Aroian RV. 2006. A purified Bacillus thuringiensis crystal protein with therapeutic activity against the hookworm parasite Ancylostoma ceylanicum. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 103:15154-9.

Barrows BD, Griffitts JS, Aroian RV. 2006. Caenorhabditis elegans carbohydrates in bacterial toxin resistance. Methods Enzymol. 417:340-58.

Griffitts JS, Haslam SM, Yang T, Garczynski S, Mulloy B, Cremer PS, Dell A, Adang MJ, Aroian RV. 2005. Glycolipids as receptors for Bacillus thuringiensis Crystal toxin. Science. 307:922-5.

Griffitts JS, Aroian RV. 2005. Many roads to resistance: How invertebrates adapt to Bt toxins. Bioessays. 27:614-24.

Griffitts JS, Huffman DL, Whitacre JL, Barrows BD, Marroquin LD, Muller R, Brown TH, Esko JD, Aroian RV. 2003. Resistance to a bacterial toxin is mediated by removal of a conserved glycosylation pathway required for toxin-host interactions. J Biol Chem. 278:45594-602.

Griffitts JS, Whitacre JL, Stevens DE, Aroian RV. 2001. Bt toxin resistance from loss of a putative carbohydrate-modifying enzyme. Science. 293:860-4.

Marroquin LD, Elyassnia D, Griffitts JS, Feitelson S, Aroian RV. 2000. Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) toxin susceptibility and isolation of resistance mutants in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. Genetics. 155:1693-9.

Cutler SR, Ehrhardt DW, Griffitts JS, Somerville CR. 2000. Random GFP::cDNA fusions enable visualization of subcellular structures in cells of Arabidopsis at a high frequency. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 97:3718-23.


Price P, Dillon B, Griffitts JS. A Metallopeptidase Blocks Nitrogen Fixation in the Medicago-Sinorhizobium Symbiosis. Gordon Conference: Microbial Stress Response. Mount Holyoke College. 2014 .

Bennallack P, Burt SR, Robison RA, Griffitts JS. Offense and Defense: Antimicrobial thiopeptide production and resistance in Staphylococcus epidermidis. Gordon Conference: Microbial Stress Response. Mount Holyoke College. 2014 .

Griffitts JS, Price P. Dominantly-acting, Parasitism-inducing factors in a rhizobial symbiont. ASM General Meeting. Boston, MA. 2014 .

Griffitts JS. Dominantly-acting, Parasitism-inducing factors in a rhizobial symbiont. MGH Seminar. 2014 .

Griffitts JS. Legume-rhizobium negotiations near the onset of nitrogen fixation. Yosemite Symbiosis Workshop. Yosemite, CA. 2014 .

VanYperen R, Orton T, Griffitts JS. Genetic Analysis of Signal Modulation by the Sensor Kinase FeuQ. ASM Branch Meeting. BYU. 2014 .

Bennallack P, Robison RA, Griffitts JS. Genetic Insights Into the Mechanism of Host Immunity in Staphylococcus epidermidis Strain 115: a Novel Micrococcin P1 Producing Strain. ASM Branch Meeting. BYU. 2014 .

Price P, Dillon B, Tanner H, Crook M, Sellers C, Griffitts JS. Identification of Plasmid-Encoded Factors Responsible for Host Range Restriction. ASM Branch Meeting. BYU. 2014 .

Bean M, Johnson K, Shirley M, Sellers C, Griffitts JS. The Wall-E effect: Assessing the evolutionary stability of symbiotic functions in rhizobia. ASM Branch Meeting. BYU. 2014 .

Ritchie D, Soh K, Harrison C, Griffitts JS. Understanding Bacterial Rhizosphere Relationships. ASM Branch Meeting. BYU. 2014 .

Bennallack P, Robison RA, Griffitts JS. Genetic insights into the mechanism of host immunity in Staphylococcus epidermidis strain 115: a novel micrococcin P1 producing strain. Intermountain Branch of the American Society for Microbiology Annual Meeting. Provo, UT. 2014 .

Griffitts JS. Getting to Fix: Negotiating compatibility in the legume-rhizobium symbiosis. UVM Department Seminar. 2014 .

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