Michael Ferris, PhD

Associate Professor, Pediatrics/Research with tenure
Associate Professor, Microbiology, Immunology and Parasitology

Children's Hospital
200 Henry Clay Avneue
New Orleans, LA 70118
Phone: (504) 896-2736


BS Microbiology
Penn State University

PhD Microbiology
Montana State University


Understanding the the ecology of complex microbial communities can provide insight into their relationship to human health and disease. We study the ecology and diversity of microbial populations in natural environments by searching for patterns in their distributions and abundance and correlating these with environmental and physiological parameters that might account for the observed distributions. For example, bacterial species composition differs between the inflammatory gut environment of premature infants with necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) and premature infants without NEC . To assess species composition, we rely heavily upon computers, bioinformatics, phylogenitics, statistics and, most notably, molecular biological techniques, such as PCR, quantitative real time PCR and genetic sequence analysis of SSR rRNA and other genes, since inferences drawn from the study of conventional enrichment culture isolates alone are generally not adequate for describing microbial diversity and ecology in natural habitats. The "environments" and microbial communities we study are quite diverse. Some of the habitats of current interest include the human gut and vaginal epithelium, as well as fresh and salt water marsh habitats in South Louisiana.

Research Interests

The cause of many poorly understood human diseases involving skin and mucus membranes cannot be ascribed to individual pathogens. It is suspected that these conditions are associated with imbalances in the human microbiota. However we know very little about the identity of the vast majority of microorganisms that inhabit the human body and how they influence normal immunity or cause disease. Recently, an enormous NIH-funded study known as the human microbiome project was conducted to identify and sequence the genomes of all microbes that inhabit the human body. This groundbreaking study is seen as a first step in understanding how changes in microflora influence human physiology. Our lab is using quantitative PCR, pyrosequencing, and various bioinformatics software tools, such as QIIME, Green Genes and RDP-pipeline, to study the association between microbial communities and three common polymicrobial diseases, bacterial vaginosis, colic and necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).

Additional Info