Zachary Pratt

Assistant Professor of Biology

B.S., North Central College (biochemistry)
Ph.D, University of Wisconsin-Madison (cancer biology)

Programs: Biology

Simply put, I love teaching, learning, and biology. My primary teaching focus includes subject areas that have been near and dear to my personal interests, including molecular biology, virology and microbiology. I wear my passion for these subjects on my sleeve in the hope that students, too, will come to appreciate these areas of study and the impact that they have on our society and our understanding of life. I use a variety of teaching tools that promote student-centered learning and develop students as independent, critical thinking, lifelong learners. For example, class time is enriched with student-led discussions of primary literature and case studies, but this can only happen if students take time to prepare for class on their own or with their peers.  

Research in the lab is an extension of classroom teaching, where we have an opportunity to apply what we know to novel situations. It encourages the highest-levels of cognitive learning. I engage undergraduates in studying the response of Gram-negative bacteria (i.e. Escherichia coli) to environmental stress using molecular, genetic and microbiological techniques. E. coli detects environmental stress with outer membrane proteins (Omps) encoded by the bacterium that work like rheostats. Upon exposure to a stressor, Omps activate a signaling event, which results in the transcription of genes that protect the bacterium against the stress.  In particular, we are elucidating how OmpX contributes to the growth and survival of E. coli in stressful environments. 

Our projects on OmpX are currently focused on identifying environmental conditions in which OmpX is required for either maximal growth or maximal survival of E. coli. Upon identification of these stresses, we test homologs of the E. coli OmpX from other bacteria species to determine if they can protect E. coli from the stress. These tests allow us to determine the domains of OmpX that are important for its function. Additionally, we are investigating whether OmpX can confer resistance of E. coli to antibiotics.  

BIOL 120 General Biology I
BIOL 250 Introductory Microbiology
BIOL 361 Virology
BIOL 373 Molecular Biology