Janelle Ayres

2018 National Award Winner — Faculty

Janelle Ayres

Current Position:
Associate Professor, NOMIS Center for Immunology and Microbial Pathogenesis; Helen McLoraine Developmental Chair

Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Immunology & Microbiology

Recognized for: Discovering the “co-operative defense” system: a defensive host response to infection that is essential for host survival without killing the pathogen.

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: Physiology, Immunology, Microbiology, Host-Microbe Interactions, Microbiome Science, Evolutionary Biology, Infectious Diseases, Metabolism, Neuroinflammation

Janelle Ayres


Postdoctoral Fellow, University of California, Berkeley
PhD, Stanford University School of Medicine
BA, University of California, Berkeley

Dr. Ayres’s pioneering research on host-pathogen interactions and the related role of the microbiome is providing novel insight into one of the world’s most pressing healthcare concerns: antibiotic resistance. Pathogens are microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, that cause disease. How a host responds to a pathogen during infection determines outcome, and the long-standing belief was that a host needed to kill an invading pathogen in order to survive. Dr. Ayres’s discovery of the host “co-operative defense” system, however, has challenged this notion. Dr. Ayres has shown that a host can employ disease tolerance defense mechanisms executed by the co-operative defense system during infection with a pathogen that limits damage to the host and promotes host survival while having little or no effect on the pathogen. Dr. Ayres has also shown that a host can employ anti-virulence mechanisms executed by the co-operative defense system that changes the behavior of pathogens so that they do not cause disease when they are in the host. Further, Dr. Ayres has found that pathogenic and beneficial microbes have evolved mechanisms to promote the host co-operative defense system to support their own survival and transmission—by promoting the health of the host—revealing a beneficial role for microbes in the maintenance of host health. For example, Dr. Ayres showed that the intestinal pathogen Salmonella takes control of the gut-brain axis of the host to make the host feel less sick and continue eating despite infection—increasing the pathogen’s chances of spreading while also improving the health of the host. These findings represent a paradigm-shift in how we view our relationship with the microbes that inhabit our bodies. Greater insight into these interactions may provide novel therapeutic approaches to fighting infection and infectious disease in the future that are not reliant on antibiotics, will ensure patient survival and reduce the threat of infectious diseases.

"I am driven by the excitement of challenging paradigms and making discoveries that have the potential to fundamentally transform the way we approach problems and impact people on a global scale."

Key Publications:

  1. Schieber, A.M.; Lee, Y.M.; Chang, M.W.; Leblanc, M.; Collins, B.; Downes, M.; Evans, R.M.; Ayres, J.S. “Disease tolerance mediated by microbiome E. coli involves inflammasome and IGF-1 signaling,” Science  2015, 350, 558-563.
  2. Ayres, J.S. “Cooperative microbial tolerance behaviors in host-microbiota mutualism,” Cell  2016, 165, 1323-1331.
  3. Rao, S.; Schieber, A.M.P.; O’Connor, C.P.; Leblanc, M.; Michel, D.; Ayres, J.S. “Pathogen-mediated inhibition of anorexia promotes host survival and transmission,” Cell  2017, 168, 503-516.
  4. Schneider, D.S.; Ayres, J.S. “Two ways to survive infection: what resistance and tolerance can teach us about treating infectious diseases,” Nat Rev Immuno  2008, 8, 889-895.

Other Honors:

2016     Senior Research Award, Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America
2018     Helen McLoraine Developmental Chair, Salk Institute for Biological Sciences
2015     DARPA Young Faculty Award, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
2015     Kavli Fellow, National Academy of Sciences
2014     Searle Scholars Award, Searle Scholars Program
2014     Career Development Award in the Biomedical Sciences, The Ray Thomas Edwards Foundation

In the Media:

Stat NewsShe’s got a radical approach for the age of superbugs: Don’t fight infections. Learn to live with them
TedXEnding the Arms Race with Infectious Diseases with Janelle Ayres, Tedx SanDiego
Science MagazineMicrobe that causes food poisoning exerts a sort of mind control over mice
NatureMicrobiology: Salmonella makes hosts eat
San Diego Union TribuneSan Diego ranks high in rising stars science index
Science Daily'Superhero' microbiome bacteria protect against deadly symptoms during infection
Salk NewsJanelle Ayres receives Young Faculty Award from DARPA
San Diego Union TribuneSan Diego science reaches top tier in new global survey
Salk NewsSalk microflora researcher Janelle Ayres named Searle Scholar
Salk NewsSalk promotes two dynamic scientists who study the microbiome and neurobiology