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MTS25 - Parisa Ariya - Bioaerosols: The Living Atmosphere

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Parisa Ariya is a professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and the Chemistry Department at McGill University in Montreal.  Dr. Ariya works mostly in atmospheric chemistry, but she’s also done a good deal of work with bioaerosols and airborne microorganisms.  She’ll deliver a talk at the ASM General Meeting in May titled Bioaerosols: Impact on Physics and Chemistry of the Atmosphere. Bioaerosols – microscopic clumps of microorganisms and organic debris – arise through any of a number of mechanisms.  The scientific community has come full circle on the idea of microorganisms in the atmosphere, according to Dr. Ariya.  Back in the early days of microbiology it was widely recognized that the air is full of living, breathing microbes, but once our understanding of atmospheric chemistry and physics matured, the roles of microbes in atmospheric processes were marginalized.  Thanks, in part, to Dr. Ariya’s work, the activities and functions of bioaerosols are getting new attention.  We now know cells in bioaerosol particles can actively metabolize materials at interfaces, and Dr. Ariya says some of her future work will look into the details of these transformation processes and how they impact the atmosphere.

In this interview, Dr. Merry Buckley talks with Dr. Ariya about how bioaerosols are formed, what they’re doing, and why it isn’t a good idea to use bioaerosols to manage the weather.

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.

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Direct Download:   MTS25

MTS24 - Jeff Bender - MRSA in Animals

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Jeff Bender is a professor of veterinary public health at the University of Minnesota, and his research interests lie in the intersection of animal health and human health, including animal-borne diseases of humans, food safety, and antibiotic resistant pathogens in animals.  Dr. Bender will speak on “Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ( MRSA) in Veterinary Practice” at the American Society for Microbiology’s General Meeting in Philadelphia this May.

To a microorganism, vertebrates can all look pretty similar.  Dr. Bender’s work focuses on pathogens that can make themselves at home in both human bodies and the bodies of our pets and livestock.  Outbreaks of bacterial illnesses from meat products are well publicized these days, but the pathogens we have in common with animals don’t just travel in one direction.  We humans can pass organisms and diseases to our animals, too.  Dr. Bender says pets treated at veterinary clinics, for example, have come down with painful MRSA skin infections they picked up from their owners.  Fluffy might become a temporary reservoir of MRSA in your home – capable of reinfecting you and your family, but the good news is that she probably won’t be a long term carrier of the bacterium.

In this interview, Dr. Merry Buckley asks Dr. Bender about MRSA in pets, whether farmers often get sick from animal-borne diseases, and whether he thinks it’s a good idea to “go organic” when shopping for food.

To listen, click the play buttonbelow. 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.

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Direct Download:   MTS24

ID3 Podcast Image courtesy of prettywar-stl on Flickr under CC 2.0.

MTS23 - Jo Handelsman - The Science of Bug Guts

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Jo Handelsman is a professor at the University of Wisconsin, where she’s a member of the Department of Plant Pathology and chair of the Department of Bacteriology. Dr. Handelsman’s research focuses on microbial communities – their composition, how they’re structured, and how they work. Thanks to her work to improve the quality of undergraduate education, Dr. Handelsman is this year’s recipient of the American Society for Microbiology’s Carski Foundation Undergraduate Teaching Award.

Dr. Handelsman has been at the cutting edge of microbial science for years. After a long time spent studying the teeming communities of microorganisms that dwell in soil, Handelsman has pared down her focus to some arguably simpler neighborhoods: the guts of insects. Handelsman applies molecular methods to identify the strains and genes present in bug guts and combines this knowledge with other information about these environments to learn what these communities might be doing.

Handelsman also takes a particular interest in science education, and along with her colleagues Sarah Miller and Christine Pfund, she recently co-authored Scientific Teaching, a book that outlines a dynamic research- and results-driven approach to teaching college-level science.

In Dr. Merry Buckley's interview with Dr. Handelsman, they discuss about why microbiologists have a responsibility to educate almost everyone, why bacterial communities in the guts of gypsy moths might need genes for antibiotic resistance, and why and how bacteria inside of insects communicate. They also talk about the underrepresentation of women in academic research appointments and about how universities need to change to make these jobs both more available and attractive for all those brainy women who won’t (or can’t) make the jump from graduate school to academic research.

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.

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Direct Download:   MTS23

MTS22 - David Knipe - Herpes Simplex Virus 2

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David Knipe is the Higgins Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Harvard Medical school. A virologist, Dr. Knipe focuses his research efforts on the herpes simplex virus 2 (HSV-2) – the virus we have to thank for genital herpes.

An astonishing 20% of Americans have been infected with HSV-2, and whether they’ve had a recognizable outbreak of sores or not, they can still carry the virus. Once you contract the HSV-2 it lays low in your nerve cells, waiting for the right moment to create watery blisters that eventually burst and release more virus particles. Dr. Knipe is interested in how the cells lead these two, very different lives: quiet and quiescent inside the nerve cell and loud and lytic in the epithelium on the surface of the body.

Read more: MTS22 - David Knipe - Herpes Simplex Virus 2

MTS21 - Andrew Knoll - Ancient Life & Evolution

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Dr. Andrew Knoll is the Fisher Professor of Natural History in Harvard University’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, where he studies ancient life, its impacts on the environment, and how the environment, in turn, shaped the evolution of life.  In recognition of the 200th anniversary of Charles’ Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the first printing of his book, “On the Origin of Species”, the American Society for Microbiology has invited Dr. Knoll to deliver the opening lecture, titled “Microbes and Earth History,” at the society’s general meeting in Philadelphia this year.

Read more: MTS21 - Andrew Knoll - Ancient Life & Evolution

MTS20 - Roberto Kolter - Bacillus Subtilis and Bacteria as Multicellular Organisms

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Roberto Kolter is a professor of Microbiology andMolecular Genetics at Harvard’s Medical School.  Dr. Kolter’s research interests are broad, but he says his eclectic program boils down to an interest in the ecology and evolution of microbes, bacteria in particular, and on how these forces operate at the molecular level.

Read more: MTS20 - Roberto Kolter - Bacillus Subtilis and Bacteria as Multicellular Organisms

MTS19 - Ellen Jo Baron - The Challenges and Rewards of Working in the Developing World

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Dr. Ellen Jo Baron is a professor of pathology and director of clinical microbiology at Stanford University’s medical center in Palo Alto, California.  A co-author of the authoritative Manual of Clinical Microbiology, Dr. Baron and her staff in the clinical lab evaluate and advise in the development of new diagnostic technologies.  Dr. Baron has also volunteered her time as a microbiology advisor in numerous hospitals and clinics in developing countries since 1996.

Read more: MTS19 - Ellen Jo Baron - The Challenges and Rewards of Working in the Developing World

MTS18 - Elizabeth Edwards - Cleaning Up Solvents in Groundwater

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Elizabeth Edwards knows that nothing is simple or easy when it comes to cleaning up toxic waste, but Edwards, a professor of Chemical Engineering and Applied Chemistry at the University of Toronto, is looking for ways to harness microbes to do our dirty work for us.  Dr. Edward’s research focuses on the biodegradation of chlorinated solvents in the environment – the means by which microbes can actually make a living by eating our noxious waste.

Read more: MTS18 - Elizabeth Edwards - Cleaning Up Solvents in Groundwater

MTS17 - Stuart Levy - Antibiotic Resistance and Biosecurity

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If you or someone you care about has ever had an antibiotic resistant infection, you know how dire that situation can be.  Stuart Levy, a professor of microbiology at Tufts University in Boston, has centered his research around the theme of antibiotic resistance and he says there are few antibiotics in the pipeline for use on that inevitable day when our current infection-fighters are finally overcome.  Dr. Levy is delivering the keynote address at ASM’s Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting in Baltimore in February.

Antibiotic resistance may not be making big headlines these days, but that’s not because the threat is any less serious than before.  Levy says he first became interested in antibiotics as a child, when he watched a course of antibiotics heal his twin brother, who suffered from an infection.  Later, as a researcher at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, France, he learned that bacteria can swap around the ability to resist antibiotics, and that failing to manage a small problem with resistance can have some serious consequences down the line.

In this interview, I talked with Dr. Levy about his talk at the biodefense meeting, what antibiotic resistance has to do with biosecurity, and about why you should leave those bottles of antimicrobial soap on the shelves at the store.

Direct download .mp3

MTS16 - Paul Keim - The Science Behind the 2001 Anthrax Letter Attacks and the Black Plague

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Dr. Paul Keim is a professor of biological sciences at Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, where his research program focuses on microbial forensics and the genomic analysis of pathogenic bacteria.  As an expert in Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium responsible for anthrax, Dr. Keim participated in the FBI’s investigation into the anthrax letter attacks back in 2001.

Microbial forensics is a field that developed in response to the twin threats of biological warfare and biological terrorism.  (What’s the difference between biological warfare and biological terrorism?  Both have the potential to reach beyond the site of the attack and both are a menace to innocent, unarmed citizens.  To me, there’s a fine line here.  But I digress.)

Dr. Keim’s interest in microbial forensics arose out of his postdoctoral work at the University of Utah.  After this training in phage recombination and genomics, Dr. Keim applied what he had learned about bacterial genetics in a collaboration with scientists working on resolving and identifying the various strains of B. anthracis.  Fast forward to this past summer, when the F.B.I. revealed that Dr. Keim used his expertise on B. anthracis to help in the investigation that concluded a researcher at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) perpetrated the anthrax attacks.  Dr. Keim, along with several other scientists who helped in the F.B.I.’s

investigation, will be speaking at ASM’s Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting in Baltimore in February, where they’ll present the facts about their contributions to the criminal investigation.

In this podcast, I talked with Dr. Keim about his work with the F.B.I., whether the payoffs of bioterrorism research are worth the costs, and about how the plague (yes, the Black Death) made its way to North American shores and continues to sicken about a dozen people every year.

Direct download .mp3

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