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Molecular detective on a mission to discover the mysteries of drug-resistant bacterial pathogens

Each year, the National Science FHip surgery at the age of 13 gave Professor Lindsey (Les) Shaw his professional purpose in life. During the procedure, surgeons unknowingly implanted two metal pins carrying Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as “staph,” a unique bacterial pathogen that is among the tiniest and deadliest germs. It can cause infection in every part of the body and is responsible for medical conditions ranging from benign abscesses to systemic and life-threatening illnesses, such as pneumonia and septicemia. The surgeons could not remove the pins. “The problem with the infection on the pin is that it will never go away. You can take antibiotics, which will temper the infection, but the minute you take that away, it comes back,” said Shaw, professor and associate chair of USF’s Department of Cell Biology, Microbiology and Molecular Biology. “I’m trying to understand how something that is theoretically very simple – this tiny organism that we have to use microscopy to even see – can outsmart us and kill millions of people.” For the past 20 years, it’s been Shaw’s mission to . . .