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Audio Interviews

MTS35 - Michael Cunliffe - The Ocean's Living Skin

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Michael Cunliffe is a microbiologist in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Warwick in England. He studies the microbes that live in the thin layer of water at the very surface of the ocean. His research is shedding light on an ecosystem that's both mysterious and huge, spanning three-quarters of the surface of the planet.

In this interview, I talked with Cunliffe about the discovery of this sea-surface ecosystem, and the influence it has over the Earth's climate.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Carl Zimmer's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:  MTS35 (.mp3 | 15.4 megs | 13:21)

MTS34 - Pratik Shah - Combatting Pathogens with Polyamines

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Pratik Shah is a graduate student in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, and he’s a 2009 recipient of ASM’s Raymond W. Sarber award, granted to recognize students for research excellence and potential.

His research focuses on polyamines and polyamine biosynthesis and transport systems in Streptococcus pneumoniae.  He’s studying polyamines with the goal of finding potential targets for pneumococcal vaccines and prophylactic interventions against pneumococcal disease.

In this interview, I talked with Pratik about why polyamines may hold the key for new ways to combat pathogens, his plans for the future, and about advice he would give to young people considering grad school.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:  MTS34

MTS33 - Abigail Salyers - The Art of Teaching Science

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Abigail Salyers is a Professor of Microbiology and the G. William Arends Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her research focuses on the ecology of microorganisms in the human body and the comings and goings of antibiotic resistance genes, particularly genes in Bacteroides species.  Dr. Salyers is ASM’s 2009 Graduate Microbiology Teaching Awardee.  If you’ve ever tried teaching or mentoring, you know it’s not always easy, but for an eminent scientist, teaching at the undergraduate or graduate level must be incredibly difficult.  After all, once you reach a certain level of knowledge in any field, it can be hard to relate your knowledge to people who know relatively little about it.  Dr. Salyers has tackled 100-level biology courses with as many as 300 students, taught one-on-one at the lab bench, and been an instructor at an intensive summer course in microbial diversity, all while rising to the top of her field in research. 

In this interview, I talked with Dr. Salyers about the most influential teacher in her own life (you might be surprised to learn who that is), about whether antibiotic resistance is getting the kind of play it deserves, and about why the baboon vagina is an interesting study system.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download: MTS33

MTS32 - Arthur Guruswamy - Mycobacterial and Fungal Pathogens

Arthur Guruswamy is a clinical microbiologist in Virginia’s Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services and the winner of ASM's Scherago-Rubin Award in recognition of an outstanding, bench-level clinical microbiologist.  His particular interest lies in mycobacterial and fungal diseases, including tuberculosis.

In his work, Mr. Guruswamy places a lot of emphasis on helping others.  A while back, he traveled to his native Sri Lanka to train clinic staff in the use of a rapid, low tech method for identifying cases of tuberculosis.  Using this method has probably saved many lives, since staff Mr. Guruswamy trained can now treat their patients quickly and avoid the three to four week wait for culture results. 

Mr. Guruswamy is also involved in ASM’s Minority Mentoring Program so he can offer younger scientists the kind of assistance he says he got from other ASM members back at the beginning of his own career, when he arrive in the United States with less than $50 in his pocket. 

In this interview, I asked Mr. Guruswamy about his work at the state lab in Virginia, about tuberculosis in this country, and about why he saw more unusual clinical cases during his time working at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota than he has during any other phase of his career.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:   MTS32

MTS31 - Frances Arnold - Engineering Microbes

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Dr. Frances Arnold is a professor of Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology (most of us know it as Caltech).  Dr. Arnold’s research focuses on evolutionary design of biological systems, an approach she is currently applying to engineer cellulases and cellulolytic enzymes for manufacturing biofuels.

This country’s energy security can look pretty bleak when you think about it: the need to address global warming, strife in oil-rich nations, and depletion of fossil fuels combine to paint an uncertain future, and although ethanol has a lot of friends in Iowa and D.C., ethanol isn’t going to end our energy woes.  In the future, our energy supply will probably be cobbled together from a number of different fuels and sources.

Dr. Arnold is interested in engineering microbes that can grant us a biofuel that packs more of a caloric punch than ethanol.  She likes isobutanol, which can be converted into a fuel that’s more like the hydrocarbons we currently put into our fuel tanks.  To develop proteins that make the comounds she wants the way she wants, Arnold and her team take a gene that needs tweaking to do the job, introduce directed mutations into it, and select the mutant proteins that do the job best.  

In this interview, I talked with Dr. Arnold about how she got into alternative energy during the Carter administration (and got out again during the Reagan administration), what she sees in the P450 enzyme, and how she explains her work to people outside her field.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:   MTS31

MTS30 - Stanley Plotkin - The Past, Present, and Future of Vaccines

Stanley Plotkin is Professor Emeritus at the Wistar Institute and the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.  A renowned vaccinologist, Dr. Plotkin is, perhaps, best known for developing a highly successful vaccine for rubella back in 1968.  We are still using the same vaccine 40 years later.  Dr. Plotkin has been honored with the inaugural Maurice Hilleman / Merck Award for his lifetime of dedication to vaccinology. 

For most people, rubella amounts to a bad rash and a crummy week, but for a fetus, the risks from infection are extremely serious.  The rubella virus inhibits tissue growth in infected fetuses, often resulting in profound birth defects collectively referred to as congenital rubella syndrome. 

Dr. Plotkin developed the rubella vaccine in the wake of a rubella pandemic in 1964, during which he estimates that about 1 in 100 women in his home city of Philadelphia came down with rubella.  Nationwide, thousands of babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome in the wake of the outbreak.  Thanks to the vaccine developed by Dr. Plotkin, rubella has essentially been eradicated in the U.S. and most other developed countries.  In many parts of the developing world, efforts are underway to piggy back the rubella vaccine with the measles vaccine to eradicate both of these diseases everywhere else. 

In this interview, I talked with Dr. Plotkin about the backlash against vaccines for their perceived safety risks, how he would change vaccine policy, and about the rewards of a career in vaccine development.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:   MTS30

MTS29 - Christine Biron - The Innate Immune System

Christine Biron is the chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Brown University in Providence, and she focuses her research program on the mechanisms of the innate immune system – the body’s system of non-specific munitions for fighting off pathogens.  Dr. Biron is also a newly elected fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

When a pathogen gets on or in your body, your innate immune system is on the front lines, working against the pathogen is a non-specific manner.  In research, the innate immune system got short shrift for a long time, and only in the last 10 or 20 years has the field picked up momentum.  Dr. Biron says back when she was in graduate school “the innate immune system wasn’t thought to be very cool”, but she says the field is fast-moving today, in part because of some major discoveries involving Type-1 interferons, natural killer cells, and an increased appreciation of a wider range of antigen processing cells that link the innate and adaptive immune responses.

In this interview, I talked with Dr. Biron about our increasing awareness of the innate immune system, why it’s important to bring microbiologists and immunologists together under one big tent, and why it’s best that a battle between a virus and a host ends not in victory for one and defeat for the other, but in détente.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:   MTS29

MTS28 - Joseph DeRisi - New Tech Approaches to Infectious Disease

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Joseph DeRisi is a Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.

His research focuses on two distinct areas: malaria and new viral pathogen discovery.  Dr. DeRisi is this year’s recipient of the Eli Lilly and Company Research Award, granted in recognition of fundamental research of unusual merit in microbiology or immunology by an individual on the threshold of his or her career.

Discovering new viral pathogens seems like exciting work, and DeRisi has lots of ideas for prospecting.  In one recent success with their viral microarray, his group recently helped identify the virus responsible for a devastating disease among rare parrots and other birds: proventricular dilatation disease, or PDD, has been recognized for 30 years, but veterinarians didn’t know the cause or how to control it.  Now that DeRisi’s group has pinpointed Avian Bornavirus as the culprit and sequenced its genome, therapies and control measures to help both captive birds and birds in the wild can’t be far behind.

In this interview, I asked Dr. DeRisi whether he’s interested in putting the microarray approach to virus discovery to work in uncovering the causes of some human illnesses, especially those diseases we suspect might be spread by viruses, but for which we’ve never found a virus responsible.  He has some very interesting ideas for where to start.  We also talked about his work on identifying the SARS virus, and a new approach in the ongoing fight against malaria.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download: MTS28

ID3 Podcast Image Provided by James Gathany Courtesy of the CDC.

MTS27 - Melanie Cushion - Pneumocystis carinii

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Melanie Cushion holds down two jobs: she’s a research career scientist at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, and she’s also professor and associate chair for research in the department of internal medicine at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.  Dr. Cushion focuses her research on the fungus, Pneumocystis carinii, which is a harmless commensal for most people, but a deadly pathogen for others. 

Pneumocystis carinii was shrouded in obscurity for many years until its fifteen minutes in the spotlight came in the 80’s, when, unfortunately, an outbreak of Pneumocystis pneumonia prefigured the AIDS epidemic.  Large numbers of previously healthy homosexual men in California became deathly ill with Pneumocystis pneumonia, and doctors knew something unusual (later found to be HIV) was going on.  Dr. Cushion says Pneumocystis pneumonia is an opportunistic infection: it strikes individuals with immune systems too weak to fend it off.  This explains why it was – and still is – a well-known sign that the patient is stricken with an active HIV infection or some other immune-suppressing disorder. 

Dr. Cushion heads up the Pneumocystis genome project and she’s also looking into a new line of drugs called glucan synthase inhibitors, which have a profound effect on Pneumocystis’s life cycle and may offer new insights into managing the pathogen.

In this interview, I talked with Dr. Cushion about some of the more surprising results to come out of her genomics work, why Pneumocystis is a tough nut to crack in the laboratory, and about why she’s not giving her young investigator award back to the Society of Protozoologists any time soon.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:   MTS27

MTS26 - Ian Orme - Tuberculosis

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Ian Orme is a professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology at Colorado State University, and his research focuses on the immune response to tuberculosis (TB) – a bacterial disease that most often infects the lungs. He's speaking at the American Society for Microbiology's Conference for Undergraduate Educators (ASMCUE).

In the U.S., TB seems like a thing of the past. Here, public health measures and medical care have all but wiped out the threat from this infection. But worldwide, the WHO says there were 9.2 million new TB cases in 2006 alone, and each person with TB infects an average of 10 to 15 people with the TB bacterium every year.

These are just some of the reasons Dr. Orme is delivering a talked titled “Tuberculosis: Why Now Is a Good Time to Leave the Planet” at ASMCUE. He admits leaving the planet isn’t a practical suggestion, but he wants to raise awareness of the disease and he’s not afraid to stir the pot a little. Orme and his group not only study the immune responses to TB bacteria, they’re also following a number of different avenues for developing new vaccines and improving the existing vaccine, BCG (bacille Calmette-Guérin).

In this interview, I talked with Dr. Orme about his vaccine work, why he thinks latent TB bacteria aren’t really latent, and how he sometimes feels like the wild-haired radical, cat-calling from the corner of the lecture hall.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:   MTS26

 

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