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Meet the Scientist

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Direct Download:   MTS26

 

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

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