Roberta O'Connor, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences
Roberta O'Connor


Office Phone
Office Address

300B Veterinary Science Bldg.
1971 Commonwealth Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55108
United States


Associate Professor, Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences
MICaB Faculty Program, Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology (MICaB) Ph.D. Graduate Program


  • PhD, College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
  • MS, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
  • BS, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rhode Island

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I am a molecular parasitologist with a particular interest in apicomplexan host-parasite interactions. Although my lab now focuses on drug discovery, I still have research interests in the molecular and immune interactions that allow parasites to infect and persist in their host. We also focus on establishing new methods for culturing parasites that better mimic the host environment. In addition to my research, I have taught students at all levels from high school to graduate school and I greatly enjoy mentoring and inspiring my students to be great scientists and well-rounded humans.


  • Host-pathogen interactions
  • Immunology
  • Apicomplexan biology
  • Organoid culture
  • Drug discovery
  • Drug target identification

Awards & recognition

  • Natalie V. Zucker Award, Tufts University School of Medicine,
  • Max Finland Award, Massachusetts Infectious Diseases Society
  • Charlton Grant, Tufts Medical Center
  • Tufts Medical Center Research Fund

Professional associations

  • Adjunct Associate Professor, Veterinary Microbiology and Pathology, Washington State University, Pullman, Washington


Research summary/interests

My laboratory focuses on natural product drug discovery for diseases caused by apicomplexan parasites. Because ocean flora and fauna are a rich source of unusual compounds, we screen marine sources for anti-parasitic compounds. One of our compounds currently under investigation came from a symbiotic bacterium of shipworms, marine clams that eat wood. Our parasites of interest are Cryptosporidium and Toxoplasma gondii. Once we have identified compounds effective against these parasites, and that are not toxic to host cells, we try to identify the target of the compound using a variety of techniques such as forward genetics, RNAseq, and proteomics. To improve our screening assays and parasite culture techniques we work with intestinal organoids from a variety of species. Promising compounds are further investigated for their pharmacokinetic properties and efficacy in vivo.

Research funding grants

  • NIH NIAID Development of a new marine natural product for the treatment of cryptosporidiosis, an AIDS defining disease
  • NIH NIAID Discovery of Marine Natural Products Effective against the AIDS associated pathogen Cryptosporidium


Selected publications



  • Comparative Molecular Biology (CMB 8202)