Dr. Bridget Barker received her B.A. in Biology and M.S. in Ecological Genetics from the University of Montana. In 2004, Dr. Barker became an IGERT Fellow at the University of Arizona, and started her PhD program. It was at this time she became interested in working on human fungal pathogens, specifically Coccidioides immitis and C. posadasii, the causative agents of coccidioidomycosis, more commonly known as Valley Fever. In 2009, Dr. Barker completed her Ph.D. in Genetics, and then started her postdoctoral work at Montana State University, where she worked to characterize the sterol regulatory element binding protein in Aspergillus fumigatus, in the lab of Dr Robert Cramer. In 2013, she joined the faculty at TGEN-North, and returned to working on Coccidioides spp. with the assistance of an NIH/NIAID K-22 award. In 2016 she became tenure track faculty at Northern Arizona University in the Pathogen and Microbiome Institute (PMI), and a member of the Biology faculty. In 2020, she was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in the Department of Biological Sciences.
Dr. Barker has extensive experience with genomics, bioinformatics, population and molecular genetics, and evolutionary biology. Her background in microbiology, work with fungal pathogens, and computational biology allowed her to develop and bring these new techniques to the field of Valley Fever research.
As a director of the Animal Biosafety Laboratory (ABSL3) at PMI, Dr. Barker is developing cutting-edge methods for characterizing the in vivo fungal transcriptomes of Coccidioides immitis and C. posadasii. A better understanding of the transcriptional network in a murine model of coccidioidomycosis will provide new insight into interactions between fungus and host. Her current work, funded by an NIH-R21 award, is an investigation of the as yet undescribed sexual life cycle of Coccidioides posadasii and C. immitis.
Dr. Barker’s future work includes developing a registry for dog owners to provide information on their dogs that have had Valley fever. The hope is that specific breeds can be identified that are more susceptible to the disease, which will help with identifying genetic markers to help us understand why some people get severe disease. Dr. Baker is also working on developing rapid environmental testing systems to determine potential times and regions for highest exposure potential. Finally, she is looking at the genetics of the fungus itself to determine if there are characteristics of the organism causing the disease that make it more or less harmful to humans.