Sean received his B.A. in Biology from Earlham College in 1996 and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from the University of Chicago in 2002. His Ph.D. research in the laboratory of Keith Moffat focused on the structural and photochemical basis of plant phototropism, and culminated in the first crystal structures of photosensory LOV domains in both dark (inactive) and illuminated (active) states. He was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Developmental Biology at Stanford University School of Medicine, where he worked under the mentorship of Lucy Shapiro on mechanisms of bacterial sensory transduction. He is currently Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Department of Microbiology, and is Program Chair of the Committee on Microbiology. Since 2013, Sean has served as Principle Investigator and Director of the Chicago Center for Functional Annotation, a national functional genomics center funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). He has been a member of the Chicago faculty since 2006.
Sean investigates the molecular basis of environmental adaptation in bacteria that inhabit niches ranging from freshwater, to the ocean, to the interior of mammalian cells. His studies center on the class Alphaproteobacteria, including the freshwater bacterium Caulobacter crescentus, the marine anoxygenic photosynthetic bacterium Erythrobacter litoralis, and the intracellular pathogen Brucella abortus, which is a causative agent of the zoonotic disease, brucellosis. Sean utilizes a cross-disciplinary set of experimental and computational approaches that have defined new mechanisms of cell adhesion control, nutrient sensing, and stress sensing, and have uncovered genes and signaling pathways required for maintenance of chronic Brucella infection.