Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology


by Karen Lachmayr

April 4th, 2011


Microbes (including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protists) are ubiquitous on Earth and affect every part of our lives, yet they are mostly invisible. Microbial scientists believe the vast majority of microbes are still unknown to us. On Saturday, April 16, eight prominent microbial scientists hailing from a wide variety of disciplines will share their investigations into these enigmatic microbes during the Eighth Annual Microbial Sciences Symposium. This all-day event, which is free and open to the public, is hosted by the Harvard Microbial Sciences Initiative and will be held in the Radcliffe Gymnasium at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies on the Cambridge campus.


The Microbial Sciences Initiative (MSI) at Harvard is an interdisciplinary program (spanning molecular biology, engineering, physics, evolutionary biology, genetics, environmental microbiology and microbial ecology) focused on understanding the microbial world. Co-directed by Colleen Cavanaugh (OEB) and Roberto Kolter (Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, HMS), the MSI links researchers in FAS with SEAS, Harvard Medical School, and Harvard Public School of Health. The Microbial Sciences Symposium is the largest and most visible event that MSI sponsors, and its aim is to “stimulate discussion among members of the scientific community and help strengthen integrative science programs,” says Kolter.

Symposium topics reflect the enormous value MSI places on interdisciplinary research. At this year’s event, Harvard SEAS Professor David Weitz will discuss the use of drop-based microfluidics for the ultra-high-throughput screening of single microbes. Jim Collins (Boston University) will reveal mysteries of bacterial network biology. The importance of microalgae and cellular mechanisms in the global cycling of carbon dioxide will be explained by Francois Morel (Princeton University). Ann Hochschild (HMS) will explain the work her lab does transplanting yeast prion proteins into E. coli cells. Also from HMS, Laurie Comstock will discuss bacterial protein glycosylation. L. Mahadevan, Professor of Applied Mathematics and OEB, will talk about the growth and form of bacteria on both a macromolecular and cellular level. Margaret McFall-Ngai, a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin, will explain the signaling that occurs in the first minutes and hours of the squid-vibrio symbiosis. Microbial interactions with human hosts, along with bacterial effectors, will be the topic of Kim Orth’s (UT Southwestern Medical Center) lecture.

The MSI Symposium begins on April 16th at 8:30 am with a light breakfast followed by the lecture series. The audience is free to explore Harvard Square area for lunch from 12:00 until 2:00 pm. At 5:00 pm the MSI is hosting a catered reception for speakers to meet with participants.

[posted April 4th, 2011]