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Path-Immuno - James Versalovic Lab

Houston, Texas

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Path-Immuno - James Versalovic Lab
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Jennifer K Spinler, Ph.D.

Jennifer K. Spinler, Ph.D.Instructor, Baylor College of Medicine
Scientist, Microbial Genetics & Genomics

Phone: 832-824-8251
Fax: 832-825-1165
Joined lab: Jan. 2006

Mailing Address:
Texas Children's Hospital
1102 Bates Ave.
Suite 830, Feigin Center
Houston, TX 77030

Research Interests

Recent scientific evidence supports a paradigm shift regarding the nature of self, humanness, and the coexistence of humans and microbes. The human microbiome consists of thousands of bacterial species, and its genetic complexity greatly exceeds that of the human genome. Human development and disease must be viewed through a different lens that considers microbial communities and human organ systems in intimate symbiotic relationships. The microbiome or the host’s microbial composition may represent a key determinant of overall health status and disease susceptibility. Deliberate manipulation of the microbiome by natural or engineered probiotics could significantly advance human health and longevity.

Therapeutic probiotics are promising agents for microbiome manipulation, and could be applied as a means to prevent or treat a variety of pediatric illnesses ranging from acute infections to chronic immune disease. Rational selection of such agents will aid in the expansion of safer treatment options for children. Dr. Spinler has developed techniques that combine bacterial genetics, biochemistry and functional genomics to characterize probiotic anti-infective mediators generated by the model organism, Lactobacillus reuteri.

L. reuteri is a beneficial microbe indigenous to humans and other vertebrates that has the potential to influence neighboring microbial communities. Comparative genomics studies have highlighted cladistic diversity among human-derived strains of L. reuteri (Fig 1), and this diversity is manifested in the probiotic features associated with specific L. reuteri clades.

Figure 1. Pair-wise genomic comparisons of the average nucleotide identity of each predicted coding sequence (CDS) was compared to the amino acid identity (gene content) of each CDS. This comparison suggests divergent evolution has resulted in two human-derived L. reuteri clades.

Human-derived L. reuteri strains ferment glycerol in a vitamin B12-dependent manner to produce a broad-spectrum antimicrobial compound, reuterin. In addition to reuterin production, L. reuteri carries out de novo synthesis of vitamin B12 (Fig 2), serving to benefit both the microbe and the host. These probiotic features (antimicrobial production and vitamin synthesis) may work in concert to allow L. reuteri to mold the local microbial community by antagonizing the growth of pathogenic organisms and selecting for more favorable microbes, all the while enhancing the health of the host.

Figure 2. The amino acid sequence identity of the genomic island responsible for reuterin production and vitamin B12 synthesis is quite variable between the human-derived L. reuteri clades.


  • Instructor, Baylor College of Medicine, July 2010 - Present
  • Scientist, Microbial Genetics & Genomics, July 2010 - Present
  • Postdoctoral Associate, Department of Pathology, Laboratory of James Versalovic, M.D., Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital, January 2006 - June 2010
  • Ph.D., Microbiology, University of Colorado Denver Health Sciences Center, 2005
  • B.S., Chemistry, Texas State University, San Marcos, 1998


Mechanisms of Probiosis in Lactobacillus reuteri

  • Santos F., Spinler J.K., Saulnier D.M., Molenaar D., Teusink B., deVos W.M., Versalovic J. and Hugenholtz J. (2011) Functional identification in Lactobacillus reuteri of a PocR-like transcription factor regulating glycerol utilization and vitamin B12 synthesis. Microb Cell Fact 10:55. Article
  • Saulnier D.M., Santos F., Roos S., Mistretta T.A., Spinler J.K., Molenaar D., Teusink B., Versalovic J. (2011) Exploring metabolic pathway reconstruction and genome-wide expression profiling in Lactobacillus reuteri to define functional probiotic features. PLoS One 6(4):e18783. Article
  • Taweechotipatr M., Iyer C., Spinler J.K., Versalovic J. and Tumwasorn S. (2009) Lactobacillus saerimneri and Lactobacillus ruminis: novel human-derived probiotic strains with immunomodulatory activities. FEMS Microbiol Lett 293(1): 65-72. Article
  • Saulnier D.M.A, Spinler J.K., Gibson G.R. and Versalovic J. (2009). Mechanisms of Probiosis and Prebiosis: Considerations for Enhanced Functional Foods. Current Opinion in Biotechnology. 20: 1-7. Article
  • Spinler JK, Taweechotipatr M, Rognerud CL, Ou CN, Tumwasorn, Versalovic J. Human-derived probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri demonstrate antimicrobial activities targeting diverse enteric bacterial pathogens. Anaerobe 2008;14:166-171. Article
  • Spinler J.K. and Versalovic J. (2008) Probiotics in human medicine: overview. In: Therapeutic Microbiology: Probiotics and Related Strategies. ASM Pres, Washington, D.C. (Versalovic J. and Wilson M., Eds.).

Iron-regulation in Corynebacterium diphtheria

  • Spinler J.K., Zajdowicz S.L.W., Haller J.C., Oram D.M., Gill R.E. and Holmes R.K. (2009) Development and use of a selectable, broad-host-range reporter transposon for identifying environmentally regulated promoters in bacteria. FEMS Microbiol Lett 291(2): 143-150. Article
  • Oram, D.M., L.M. Must, J.K. Spinler, E.M. Twiddy and R.K. Holmes. 2005. Repressor activity and antigenicity of the iron dependent transcriptional regulators from Corynebacterium diphtheriae and Mycobacterium tuberculosis influence repressor activity. FEMS Microbiol. Lett. 243:1-8. Article
  • Spinler, J.K. and R.K. Holmes. 2004. Corynebacterium diphtheriae – molecular detection of diphtheria toxin, p. 297-300. In J. Fuchs and M. Podda, eds., Encyclopedia of Medical Genomics and Proteomics. Marcel Dekker, Inc., New York.

Selected Abstracts

  • Spinler JK, Hollister EB, Sontakke A, Oh PL, Walter J, Highlander SK and Versalovic J. Divergence of human-derived Lactobacillus reuteri strains reveals unique probiotic profiles. 112th ASM General Meeting, San Francisco, CA, June 2012.
  • Spinler JK, Hollister EB, Sontakke A, Qin X, Muzny D, Dugan-Rocha S, Ding Y, Gibbs R, Versalovic J and Highlander SK. Pangenomic analysis of Lactobacillus reuteri highlights the evolution of a human-specific ecotype. Meta-HIT International Human Microbiome Conference, Paris, France, March 2012. Poster presentation
  • Spinler JK, Saulnier DMA, Balderas MA, Rutledge EB, Mistretta TA, Raza S, Versalovic J. Regulatory control of reuterin production is dependent upon PocR. 3rd ASM Conference on Beneficial Microbes, Miami, FL, 2010. Poster presentation
  • Taweechotipatr M, Iyer C, Spinler JK, Versalovic J, Tumwasorn S. Characterization of human-derived probiotic Lactobacillus spp. with anti-pathogenic and anti-inflammatory activities. 2009 Conference on Gastrointestinal Function, Chicago, Il. 2009. Podium presentation.
  • Spinler JK, Saulnier DMA, Balderas, MA, Schaefer L, Britton RA and Versalovic J. Comparative genomic analyses in probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri strains reveal potential regulatory mechanisms for reuterin production. 2nd ASM Conference on Beneficial Microbes, San Diego, CA, 2008. Poster presentation.
  • Saulnier DMA, Spinler JK, Jones SE, Hong, T, Kalkum M and Versalovic J. Folylpolyglutamate synthase influences the expression of putative probiotic genes in Lactobacillus reuteri. 9th Symposium on Lactic Acid Bacteria, Egmond aan Zee, the Netherlands, 2008. Poster presentation.
  • Spinler JK, Saulnier DMA, Storm CM, Balderas MA, Schaefer L, Britton RA and Versalovic, J. Functional genomic analyses of reuterin production in probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri. 9th Biennial Anaerobe Congress of the Americas, Long Beach, CA, 2008. Poster presentation.
  • Spinler JK, Taweechotipater M, Preidis GA, Ou CN, Tumwasorn S, Versalovic J. Probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri demonstrates antimicrobial activities targeting diverse enteric bacterial pathogens. Royal Golden Jubilee Ph.D. Congress, Pattaya, Thailand, 2008. Poster presentation.

Other Contributions

  • Published article in From the Labs: Article1
  • Published article in From the Labs: Article2


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