Jennifer Barrila

Jennifer Barrila

Assistant Research Professor, Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics


Jennifer Barrila is an assistant research professor in the Biodesign Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics where she investigates the mechanobiology of infectious disease using spaceflight and ground-based NASA technologies. 

Dr. Barrila studies how the physical force of fluid shear alters bacterial virulence/physiology and host-pathogen-microbiome interactions using an advanced 3-D model of human colonic epithelium containing immune cells. Dr. Barrila also is an investigator on two spaceflight payloads set to launch later this year: 1) EVOLVES, which will evaluate the impact of long-term multigenerational culture during spaceflight on the genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, stress and virulence profiles of the foodborne pathogen Salmonella Typhimurium and 2) a study evaluating polymicrobial biofilm formation on materials found in the ISS potable water system.

Dr. Barrila received her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Syracuse University (Syracuse, New York) in 2002. She received her doctoral degree in biology in 2008 from Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland), where her doctoral research performed with Dr. Ernesto Freire focused on the thermodynamic and crystallographic analysis of the main viral protease from the SARS virus (3CLpro) and structure-based drug design of small molecules targeting coronaviral infections. 

Dr. Barrila’s postdoctoral studies were performed with Dr. Cheryl Nickerson at the Biodesign Institute, where she was trained on the use of innovative culture systems to study how physiologically relevant biomechanical forces like fluid shear regulate microbial pathogenesis and host responses to infection. This work has included use of both the spaceflight platform and ground-based microgravity analogues. Dr. Barrila was an investigator on research that has flown on several spaceflight missions, including STS-131 (STL-IMMUNE; April, 2010), STS-135 (RASV; July, 2011) and SpaceX-CRS5 (PHOENIX/Micro-5; January, 2015). In 2010, she transitioned to the position of assistant research scientist, and in 2013 she was promoted to research assistant professor. She is author of a patent, several peer-reviewed publications and has presented numerous talks and posters at national and international conferences.  
In 2014, she received the Thora W. Halstead Young Investigator’s Award from the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research and in 2019 received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).