Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology

The Microbial World

by Karen Lachmayr

April 7th, 2014


Microbes (including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protists) are ubiquitous on earth and affect every part of our lives.  Yet they are mostly invisible, and the vast majority of microbes are still unknown to us.  On Saturday, April 19th, eight prominent microbial scientists hailing from a wide variety of disciplines will share their investigations into these enigmatic microbes during the Eleventh Annual Microbial Sciences Symposium.  This all-day event, which is free and open to the public, is hosted by the Harvard MSI and will be held in the Knafel Gymnasium at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies on the Cambridge campus. 

The MSI at Harvard is an interdisciplinary program (spanning the fields of 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 Immunobiology, HMS), the MSI links researchers in FAS, SEAS, HMS, HSDM, and HSPH.  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.  

Symposium topics reflect the enormous value MSI places on interdisciplinary research.  At this year’s event, Norman Pace from the University of Colorado, who helped pioneer today’s molecular methods for characterizing microbial communities, will talk about the microbiology of the built environment.  Michael Brenner (SEAS) will lecture on the fluid mechanics of fungi and slime.  HSPH’s Barry Bloom will discuss the global health threat of tuberculosis.  Also from HSPH, Pardis Sabeti will speak about evolutionary forces in humans and pathogens.  Michi Taga, from the University of California at Berkley, will share her research findings on nutrient sharing within microbial communities.  Ralph Isberg (Tufts University) will explain the community behavior of bacteria growing in tissues. The swelling, stretching, cracking and ringing that occurs in the bacterial cell wall during growth and division will be the topic of Julie Theriot’s (Stanford University) lecture.  MCB’s own Karine Gibbs with explain how self-recognition in a bacterium is modulated by kin-specific protein-protein interactions.

The  MSI Symposium begins on April 19th at 8:30 am with a light breakfast followed by the lecture series.  The audience is free to explore the Harvard Square area for lunch from 12:00 until 2:00 pm.  At 5:00 pm the MSI is hosting a catered reception for symposium speakers and participants.