Christopher D. Johnston, PhD

Christopher D. Johnston, PhD


Department of Biological Sciences, Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), Cork, Ireland, 2008, BSc (Applied Bioscience, Cell and Molecular biology)
Cork Institute of Technology (CIT)/Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre, University College Cork (UCC), Cork, Ireland, 2013, PhD (Molecular Microbiology)
Department of Immunology and Infectious Disease, The Forsyth Institute, Cambridge, MA, 2016, Postdoc (Immunology and Infectious Disease)

Research Focus

The Johnston Lab has three focus areas: 1) Synthetic Microbiology and Genetic Engineering 2) Microbial Epigenetics 3) Bacterial virulence mechanisms in oral and systemic disease.

Bacteria that cause inflammation within the mouth are increasingly being found in association with extra-oral infections and systemic disease, including cancer, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and cardiovascular disease. Dr. Johnston is interested in the virulence mechanisms of bacterial species and determining how bacteria from the mouth establish themselves at other sites in the body.

A current major focus of the lab is the development of synthetic microbiology applications to overturn the restrictive paradigm of genetic intractability facing microbiology. In collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) he is creating a platform to allow virtually any cultivable bacterial species to be genetically engineered; massively expediting fundamental examination of not-yet genetically tractable microbes relevant to human health and disease.

Awards and Honors

2017 NIH Director's Transformative Research Awardee

Oct 2017 National Institutes of Health (NIH), Office of the Director, Common Fund

The NIH Director’s Transformative Research Award (R01 mechanism), established in 2009, supports exceptionally innovative and/or unconventional research projects with the potential to create or overturn fundamental paradigms. The award is part of the Common Fund’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, which was created to accelerate the pace of biomedical discoveries by supporting exceptionally creative scientists with highly innovative research.

Selected Publications

Johnston, CD., Cotton SL., Rittling SR., Starr JR., Borisy G., Dewhirst, F., Lemon KP. SyngenicDNA: stealth-based evasion of restriction-modification barriers during bacterial genetic engineering (2018, Preprint BioArchive) DOI:

Juárez JF, Lecube-Azpeitia B, Brown SL, Johnston CD, Church GM. Biosensor libraries harness large classes of binding domains for construction of allosteric transcriptional regulators. Nat Commun. 2018 Aug 6;9(1):3101. DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-05525-6

Johnston CD, Skeete CA, Fomenkov A, Roberts RJ, Rittling SR. Restriction modification mediated barriers to exogenous DNA uptake and incorporation employed by Prevotella intermedia. PLoS One. 2017 Sep 21;12(9): e0185234. PMID: 28934361 PMCID: PMC5608340 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185234

Johnston, C.D., Douarre,PE., Soulimane, T., Pletzner, D., Weingart, H., MacSharry, J., Coffey, A., Sleator, R.D & O’Mahony, J. (2013). Codon optimization to improve expression of a Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis specific membrane associated antigen by Lactobacillus salivarius. FEMS Pathog Dis. 2013 Jun; 68(1):27-38. PMID: 23620276 DOI: 10.1111/2049-632X.12040

Matsui A, Jin JO, Johnston CD, Yamazaki H, Houri-Haddad Y, Rittling SR. Pathogenic bacterial species associated with endodontic infection evade innate immune control by disabling neutrophils. PMID: 25024367 PMCID: PMC4187851 DOI: 10.1128/IAI.02256-14


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Christopher D. Johnston, PhD

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