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Sapna Chitlapilly Dass

Chitlapilly Dass, Sapna
Sapna Chitlapilly Dass
Assistant Professor, Microbial Ecology and Microbiome Interactions
Room 314A Kleberg
Undergraduate Education
B.S., Zoology, University of Madras, India
Graduate Education
M.S., Applied Microbiology, University of Madras, India
M.S., Industrial Biotechnology, Newcastle University, UK
Ph.D., Food Microbiology, Dublin Institute of Technology, Ireland

Sapna is an assistant professor of Microbiology in the Department of Animal Sciences. She received a B.S. in Zoology from University of Madras. She obtained her M.S. degree in Industrial Biotechnology from Newcastle University. She earned her Ph.D. in Food Microbiology from Dublin Institute of Technology. Before joining the department, her prior appointments were, postdoctoral research associate in University of Nebraska- Lincoln, postdoctoral research engineer in France National center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and University of Paris VI (UPMC), Banyuls-sur-Mer, France and research internship, French National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA), Nancy, France. 

Research in Dass lab is centered around – the multipartite interactions between human pathogens, their host, and the microbiome. We focus on two key areas host-pathogen interactions and pathogen protection in multi-species biofilms. The holistic understanding of pathogen protection, dispersal processes and their underlying microbiological mechanisms, is highly significant, as it will lead to powerful new approaches that could reduce pathogen outbreaks. Our research is highly interdisciplinary, amalgamating the fields of microbial ecology, biophysics, biofilm biology, virology and mathematical modeling. We use a combination of multi- OMICS (metagenomics, metatranscriptomics and metabolomics), microscopy, microfluidic techniques, supported by large-scale mathematical modelling to understand the multipartite interactions.

Multi-species Biofilms: The environmental biofilms are most often composed of multi-species microorganisms and the community is shaped by the environment in which it grows. Many foodborne pathogens such as Escherichia coli O157:H7, Salmonella enterica, and Listeria monocytogenes can form multi species-biofilms with environmental microorganisms. Recurrent pathogen outbreaks associated with the same species in a food processing facility are most likely linked to biofilm persistence in the facility. A major goal of our group is to understand the adaptive response of the pathogen to mixed species environmental biofilm. Specifically, we are interested in understanding how pathogens are recruited into the mixed-species biofilm community, how they co-evolve in the shared niche and finally pathogen transmission pathways.

Host-Microbe Interactions: Our interest in host-microbe interactions is centered around the concept of “pathobiome”. Evolving from the concept of Kohn and Hills’s disease postulate, the concept of pathobiome looks at a pathogen and its complex interactions with the host and host associated microbiome which may influence or drive the disease process. In this area, we are interested in understanding how the pathogen integrates into the host environment and spreads the disease. Also, we are interested in the mechanism of ‘microbiota kin selection” and how this microbial community evolve to reach a climax community harboring the pathogen in the host environment.

Dass Lab Staff

Postdoctoral Research Associate

Austin Featherstone

Ph.D. Microbiology and Immunology, Vanderbilt University, USA

Postdoctoral Research Associate, Dass Lab
Department of Animal Science


Austin Featherstone is a postdoctoral researcher in the Dass lab. Austin earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Chemistry in 2013 at the University of North Texas, where he spent three years working in the laboratory of Lee Hughes, Ph.D. studying S. griseus bacteriophages.  In 2014, Austin joined the Microbiology and Immunology Ph.D. Program at Vanderbilt University. He started at Vanderbilt University in 2014 by studying coronavirus gain-of-function mutations under the leadership of Mark Denison, M.D. In 2015, Austin joined the laboratory of Chris Aiken, Ph.D. where he studied the antiviral mechanism of cellular proteins that inhibit HIV-1 infectivity. In 2020, he graduated with his Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology from his work that he did on understanding the antiviral mechanism of SERINC5 on HIV-1 infectivity. In 2021, Austin joined Dass lab where he is excited to be studying the impact of SARS-COV-2 (COVID-19) in meat processing in a farm to plate approach.

Austin’s dream is to work for the U.S. government as an infectious disease research doctor studying new and emerging viral outbreaks and developing new therapeutics that can help people that are infected by new and emerging viral diseases. He is excited to be working with the members of the Dass lab and our collaborators to help understand how COVID-19 can spread.

Graduate Student

Qiyue (Kira) Chen

2nd year Ph.D. Student, Dass Lab
Department of Animal Science

B.S in Food Science and Technology, University of Nebraska- Lincoln (UNL), USA


Kira is a Ph.D. student originally from Guangxi, China. She received her B.S in Food Science and Technology degree from UNL with a concentration on microbial interventions to reduce food waste and extend shelf-life. After she earned her B.S. degree in Food Science, she worked with Neogene in their food safety division. She worked on high throughput DNA extraction. At Texas A&M she is working on deciphering the pathogen protection mechanism in multi-species biofilms. Kira is investigating the sanitizer tolerance in food pathogen-mixed-species biofilm using omics and measuring the effect of spatiotemporal microscale patterns and dispersal mechanism in biofilm using microscopy.

Undergraduate Student

Angelica Bong

Dass Lab Alumni

Audrey Anderson: Undergraduate Research Assistant (2019 to 2021)

Jitendra Keshri:  Postdoctoral Research Associate (2020-2021)

Danelle Green: Undergraduate Research Assistant (2019)

Victoria Miller: Undergraduate research assistant (2019)



Sep 2021 Sapna transitions to tenure track Assistant professor in the Animal Science Department

Postdoctoral Research Associate joins our lab

June 2021: Dr. Austin Featherstone joins our lab from Vanderbilt University!!!

Visiting Professor

June- July 2021: Dr. Arnold Mathijssen: Assistant Professor, Department of Physics, University of Pennsylvania. Arnold and Sapna are collaborators on two USDA grants. They are merging the fields of biophysics and microbial interactions to study multi-species biofilm persistence and dispersal mechanism.

Visiting Postdoctoral Research Associate

May – July 2021 Dr. Ercag Pince: Department of Physics, University of Pennsylvania. Ercag worked on isolating bacteria from microbial interactions study from meat processing drain biofilm.

Blog on our SARS-CoV-2 work

USDA-NIFA Blog https://nifa.usda.gov/blog/ensuring-meat-processing-safety-these-challenging-times


News on our SARS-CoV-2 grant

Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-usa-food/usda-funds-1-million-research-project-studying-covid-19-in-u-s-beef-supply-chain-idUSKCN26G37W

News on our SARS-CoV-2 grant

The Eagle: https://theeagle.com/landandlivestockpost/texas-a-m-agrilife-leads-research-to-predict-where-coronavirus-is-most-likely-to-contaminate/article_1cfbbf62-0e7f-11eb-b328-8b0fe2c1f191.html

Postdoctoral Research Associate joins our lab

Oct 2020: Jitendra Keshri joins our lab from Western University of Heath Science.

USDA-NIFA funds our SARS-CoV-2 project.

June 2020: SARS-CoV-2 impact on meat production: A farm to plate approach

Blog on our Biofilm grant

FSN Food Safety News: https://www.foodsafetynews.com/2020/06/mom-was-right-about-not-touching-slime-researchers-looking-at-pathogens-in-food-facilities/

News on our Biofilm grant

The Eagle: https://theeagle.com/news/local/texas-a-m-agrilife-study-targets-contamination-hotspots-in-food-processing/article_d8959de0-b2a6-11ea-8342-7728eeacb69c.html

WATTPoultry: https://www.wattagnet.com/articles/40550-study-aims-to-identify-contamination-hotspots-in-meat-processing?v=preview

Graduate student joins our lab

August 2020: Qiyue Chen joined our lab to work on the multi-species biofilm project!!!


USDA-NIFA Funds our multi-species biofilm project!

November 2019: Collective dynamics of environmental multispecies biofilms that facilitate sanitizer tolerance and dissemination of foodborne pathogens.


December 2018: SCD Joined as Research Assistant Professor in the Animal Science Department