Jonathon Baker joined the Department of Genomic Medicine at JCVI in 2018. Working in the oral microbiology group led by Dr. Anna Edlund, Dr. Baker’s research is focused primarily on the disease, dental caries, commonly referred to as “cavities” or “tooth decay.” Dental caries is the most common chronic infectious disease, globally, and will afflict roughly 90% of Americans at some point in their lives. This extraordinary rate of infection, combined with high cost of treatment, translates to a massive global economic burden, approaching US$300 billion, annually.
Historically, infection by the oral bacterium Streptococcus mutans was thought to be the primary cause of dental caries. S. mutans causes disease by forming biofilms (dental plaque), firmly attached to the tooth surface, and generating large amounts of organic acids—by-products of its metabolism of the sugars it comes into contact with, thanks to the human diet. These acids destroy the protective enamel coating on the tooth surface, and will lead to loss of the tooth if the disease process is unchecked. In the era of next-generation sequencing, caries is increasingly recognized as a polymicrobial disease, caused by an ecological catastrophe in the plaque environment, rather than infection by a single species. Thus, the role of S. mutans as the keystone pathogen in caries progression has been called into question. Dr. Baker’s research seeks to understand how S. mutans, and its bacterial neighbors in dental plaque, influence and interact with one another, and how these relationships affect the ability of these communities of bacteria to cause disease.
Originally from Rochester, NY, Dr. Baker has a PhD in Microbiology & Immunology from the University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry and a BS in Biology from SUNY Geneseo. Prior to joining the team at JCVI, Dr. Baker conducted research in the Department of Oral Biology at the UCLA School of Dentistry and in the Vaccine Research and Early Development group at Pfizer, Inc. in Pearl River, NY.
Identifying and characterizing interspecies interactions between S. mutans and other dental plaque bacteria that affect virulence of the community
- Identifying contributing species
- Discovering the mechanisms of interaction/signaling
- Applying novel information to better understand how the plaque community interacts with the host and causes disease
Characterizing oral bacterial communities during ecological catastrophes and bottlenecks
- Identifying which species survive and why
- Applying this information to study how ecological catastrophes cause disease in the human host