Meet Our Researchers


Associate Member at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard
Melvyn J. and Geraldine L. Glimcher Assistant Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Physician in the Division of Infectious Disease

Yonatan Grad is a physician-scientist studying infectious diseases and how pathogens evolve and spread throughout populations.

Project Description

Yonatan will collect and study strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes gonorrhea, from the Himba, a nomadic, pastoralist tribe of 50,000 people in northern Namibia. The Himba have very high rates of infection—more than 60 percent of adults carry the bacteria—but very low rates of symptomatic disease. Yonatan is using his BroadIgnite award to support travel to Namibia, collect specimens, and conduct DNA sequencing. This work will lead to important insights that will impact the understanding and treatment of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea—a rising global public health threat—as well as other infectious diseases.

The Question

The incidence of drug-resistant infections is growing at an alarming rate. To confront this grave threat, we urgently need to better understand how these pathogens evolve and spread, including the genetic factors at play. With this aim, my team and I will investigate the DNA of the gonococcal infections in the Himba, a remote tribe in northern Namibia that has high rates of gonorrhea but low rates of symptomatic disease. We’re wondering: is this fact a reflection of the bacterial strains infecting this population or something about the Himba themselves, or another factor? If we identify the basis for the minimal symptoms in this population, can we harness that data into lines of inquiry for possible treatments?

The Results

I will use my BroadIgnite award to travel to Namibia, where I plan to collect and sequence the strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae found in the Himba. My team will then compare the N. gonorrhoeae genomes collected from the Himba with our extensive global collections of N. gonorrhoeae genomes to learn more about why—despite high prevalence of gonorrhea—many of the Himba remain asymptomatic. The answers could provide clues to the extent to which factors from host, pathogen, and microbial environment contribute to disease, which in turn would inform new avenues of therapeutic exploration.