Robert J. Maier, Ph.D.

Microbial physiology
The University of Georgia
Recruited: 1998

Robert Maier has demonstrated that some human pathogenic bacteria, including some associated with human cancers, are able to use molecular hydrogen, produced as a consequence of normal intestinal flora, as an energy source for growth while residing in the animal.
The roles of hydrogen use by the pathogen, he discovered, vary with the pathogen and the tissue environment colonized. In order to use hydrogen most efficiently a variety of uncharacterized metal binding proteins are employed by the different pathogens; these are being characterized, and evaluated as targets for therapeutic intervention. The use of hydrogen is a clever ploy to maintain a population of the pathogen in the infected animal, yet avoid competing with the host for energy sources the host normally uses.


Maier uses state-of-the-art tools — ranging from molecular biology to physical biochemistry to virulence models — to understand the processes used by human pathogens to cause disease. For his lab, this involves studying the sequestration and mobilization of metals or use of unique substrates (i.e. molecular hydrogen) by bacterial pathogens to make the pathogen more virulent. Multidisciplinary approaches and collaborations, he says, are necessary to achieve high impact studies today. 

Maier also sees the training of diverse scientists who can communicate the importance of academic research to the public, the press, to industry, and to other specialists in legal or societal issues as an increasingly important goal of academic researchers.

Straight from the Scholar

My area of research is perfectly complemented by the microbiology faculty and other researchers here. Opportunities from academic research to application and even entrepreneurial avenues abound here. The expanding research environment in this state, with its emphasis on integrating pure scientific knowledge with growth of commercially applicable and cutting edge technology, is an outstanding one. Being a part of these growth initiatives brings unsurpassed personal and professional reward.