Faculty Profile

Roberta O’Connor

Roberta O’Connor

Associate Professor

Office Phone: 509-335-6335



  • Ph.D: University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine
  • M.S. Cornell University
  • B.S. University of Florida

Veterinary parasitology

The overarching goal of my research is to develop new therapeutics for diseases caused by apicomplexan parasites. Our main target is Cryptosporidium, a gastrointestinal parasite that is the cause of most waterborne outbreaks of diarrheal disease in industrialized countries, and one of the primary causes of diarrhea in young children in developing countries.  Currently, there are no effective drugs to treat this infection.

Our approach is to mine natural products from marine environments for new anti-cryptosporidial therapeutics.  This work began when we made the discovery that symbiotic bacteria of shipworms, marine clams that burrow into wood, produced a compound that is highly effective against multiple apicomplexan parasites, including Cryptosporidium.  We are conducting pre-clinical studies of this compound and working to elucidate the mechanism of action, while pursuing the identification of other marine compounds with anti-parasitic activity.  

Because Cryptosporidium is a challenging parasite to study in the laboratory, we are always looking to develop new tools to expand our capabilities.  We use Toxoplasma a model parasite to study mechanism of action of new compounds, and we recently developed a human intestinal organoid model that supports the complete life cycle of Cryptosporidium. We are using this platform to develop avian and bovine intestinal organoids to study other apicomplexan parasites of veterinary importance.

Select Publications
  • Driskell I, O'Connor RM (2020) Production and Purification of Functional Cryptosporidium Glycoproteins by Heterologous Expression in Toxoplasma gondii. Methods Mol Biol. ;2052:87-102. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-9748-0_6. PMID: 31452158 PMCID:
  • Roberta M O'Connor, Felix J Nepveux V, Jaypee Abenoja, Gregory Bowden, Patricia Reis, Josiah Beaushaw, Rachel M Bone Relat, Iwona Driskell, Fernanda Gimenez, Michael W Riggs, Deborah A Schaefer, Eric W Schmidt, Zhenjian Lin, Daniel L Distel, Jon Clardy, Timothy R Ramadhar, David R Allred, Heather M Fritz, Pradipsinh Rathod, Laura Chery, John White (2020) A symbiotic bacterium of shipworms produces a compound with broad spectrum anti-apicomplexan activity PLoS Pathog. ;16(5):e1008600. doi: 10.1371/journal.ppat.1008600. PMID: 32453775 PMCID:
  • Dutta, D., Heo, I., O'Connor, R.  (2019) Studying Cryptosporidium Infection in 3D Tissue-derived Human Organoid Culture Systems by Microinjection J. Vis. Exp. (151), e59610. PMID: PMCID:
  • Bowden GD, Land KM, O'Connor RM, Fritz HM (2018) High-throughput screen of drug repurposing library identifies inhibitors of Sarcocystis neurona growth. Int J Parasitol Drugs Drug Resist. 8(1):137-144. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpddr.2018.02.002. Epub 2018 Feb 16. PMID: 29547840 PMCID: PMC6114104
  • Heo I, Dutta D, Schaefer DA, Iakobachvili N, Artegiani B, Sachs N, Boonekamp KE, Bowden G, Hendrickx APA, Willems RJL, Peters PJ, Riggs MW, O'Connor R, Clevers H (2018) Modelling Cryptosporidium infection in human small intestinal and lung organoids. Nat Microbiol. ;3(7):814-823. doi: 10.1038/s41564-018-0177-8. Epub 2018 Jun 25. PMID: 29946163 PMCID: PMC6027984
  • R.M. O’Connor, J.M. Fung, K.H. Sharp, J. Benner, C. McClung, S. Cushing, E. Lamkin, A. Fomenkov, B. Henrissat, Y. Londer, M. B. Scholz, J. Posfai, S. Malfatti, S.G. Tringe, T. Woyke, R.R. Malmstrom, D. Coleman-Derr, M.A. Altamia, S. Dedrick, S. T. Kaluziak, M.G. Haygood and D.L. Distel. (2014) Gill bacteria enable a novel digestive strategy in a wood-feeding mollusk. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 111(47):E5096-104. PMID: 25385629 PMCID: PMC4250168

List of Publications