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Norberto J. Palleroni - In Memoriam

March 14, 2018

image of Norberto Palleroni

Norberto J. Palleroni passed away on March 5th 2018, at the age of 96. He was internationally recognized as an authority in bacterial taxonomy, particularly the genus Pseudomonas. His work on this genus culminated in the first demonstration of the power of ribosomal RNA homology experiments as a tool of general use in bacterial taxonomic and phylogenetic studies. This work stimulated research along similar lines on other microbial groups, resulting in the development of new approaches in the study of bacterial phylogeny. In addition, his early work on bacterial classification utilizing genomic DNA-DNA hybridization techniques initiated the exploration of the genome complexity of Pseudomonas and other bacterial taxa...

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Drs. Liping Zhao and Yan Yan Lam Publish in Science

Professor Liping Zhao and Assistant Research Professor Yan Yan Lam have published the findings from their six-year study on the effects of diet on gut bacteria in Science Magazine.

March 12, 2018

image of gut bacteria

Abstract: "The gut microbiota benefits humans via short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) production from carbohydrate fermentation, and deficiency in SCFA production is associated with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). We conducted a randomized clinical study of specifically designed isoenergetic diets, together with fecal shotgun metagenomics, to show that a select group of SCFA-producing strains was promoted by dietary fibers and that most other potential producers were either diminished or unchanged in patients with T2DM. When the fiber-promoted SCFA producers were present in greater diversity and abundance, participants had better improvement in hemoglobin A1c levels, partly via increased glucagon-like peptide-1 production. Promotion of these positive responders diminished producers of metabolically detrimental compounds such as indole and hydrogen sulfide. Targeted restoration of these SCFA producers may present a novel ecological approach for managing T2DM."

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Professor Maria Gloria Dominguez Bello Gives Keynote Speech at Rutgers' 2018 Microbiology Symposium

By Emily Hanselman
February 26, 2018

image of Maria Gloria Dominguez

There is an emerging body of literature on the associations between urbanization, microbiome and human diseases. What are the changes that have occurred in our microbiome as our society has become more urban? How does urbanization affect the microbiome of infants, their development and long-term health? Using evidence from evolution, anthropology and microbiology, Dr. Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello addressed these questions in her keynote lecture at the 2018 Rutgers Microbiology Symposium on February 1st.

Dr. Dominguez-Bello discussed evidence that the diversity of human microbiota is reduced by urban life, which starts at birth. She unearthed the central roles that birth and the environment play in establishing the microbiota composition of an infant, including delivery method, breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact and, in older infants, exposure to microbes from the environment. Urbanization is accompanied by increased medical intervention at birth, more frequent antibiotic use, decreased breastfeeding and less skin-to-skin contact, as well as more sanitized indoor environments, which collectively reduce an infant’s normal exposure to microbes.

Comparing maternal microbiota from various maternal body compartments to infant gut microbiota, Dr. Dominguez-Bello found that infants born via caesarean section had microbiota similar to that of maternal skin and had decreased diversity, while the microbiota of those born vaginally were similar to maternal vaginal microbiota with a higher level of diversity. Furthermore, mice delivered by C-section had increased weight gain and total body mass after weaning. In humans, C-section has been associated with increased risk of modern diseases, including asthma, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease and obesity. To ameliorate these effects, the Dominguez-Bello laboratory has developed and tested interventions to restore a normal microbiota in infants after C-sections.

In addition to clinical interventions, Dr. Dominguez-Bello discussed the importance of an international initiative to preserve microbes from traditional peoples as our world rapidly urbanizes. A global microbiota vault located in a cold climate could preserve rare strains of bacteria for future research and clinical application.

Distinguished Professor Debashish Bhattacharya Appointed to National Academy of Sciences Committee Addressing Interventions to Increase the Resilience of Coral Reefs

February 6, 2018

image of Debashish Bhattacharya

On January 12, 2018 Prof. Debashish Bhattacharya of the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology was appointed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to serve on the committee to discuss and report on strategic Interventions to Increase the Resilience of Coral Reefs. Prof. Bhattacharya’s lab studies coral genome evolution, population structure, and coral responses to abiotic stress, with the goal of identifying the ‘genetic toolkit’ used by these species to adapt to environmental fluctuations.

This committee has multiple tasks. These include to review the state of the art in ecological and genetic interventions that can be used to enhance recovery and persistence of coral reefs. The committee will consider scenarios and solutions that address the next 5-20 years which will see serious deterioration in the reef environment due to warming, more acidic waters. The committee will provide an environmental risk assessment and develop a decision pathway for implementation of potential interventions that includes knowledge gained from genetic, genomic, and ecological data. Two reports will result from this initiative.

The committee is chaired by Steven Palumbi, who is the Jane and Marshall Steel Professor in Marine Sciences and Senior Fellow with the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University. According to the announcement by the Academies, the “study is focused on the state-of-the-science of novel intervention strategies to identify and compare potential ecological risks and benefits.”

The committee will hold 5 meetings at different sites in the US, with the first scheduled for Washington DC on February 7-9, 2018.

Streptomyces griseus Proposed as New Jersey State Microbe

in support of the nomination of the streptomycin-producing microbe, Streptomyces griseus, as the State Microbe of New Jersey

July 7, 2017

image of actinomyces microbe

In New Jersey we are proud of our state flower, the Common Meadow Violet (Viola sororia), and the state bird, the American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis). Microbes are a major component of our soil’s ecology: Filamentous bacteria (Streptomyces) give the soil that wonderful earthy aroma (geosmin), they turn over organic materials to maintain soil fertility, and are also a major source of today’s antibiotics. Yet, we lack a state microbe.

To date, only Oregon has recognized a state microbe – Saccharomyces cerevisiae, yeast, the basis of brewing – in recognition of the state’s many small craft breweries. Wisconsin and Hawaii are considering naming state microbes as well. The microbe Streptomyces griseus, discovered in New Jersey, has dramatically advanced world health and thus merits state recognition.

Streptomycin was discovered by Albert Schatz, Elizabeth Bugie and Selman Waksman in January of 1944. It was truly remarkable in the breadth of pathogens that it attacked, including Vibrio cholerae (cholera) and Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB), against both of which penicillin, the only other antibiotic at that time, had no effect. The discovery of streptomycin radically changed public health...

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Peter Kahn Gives Baccalaureate Address to Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences 2017 Graduates

June 20, 2017

image of Peter Kahn On May 15th, 2017, at SEBS convocation, Dr. Peter C. Kahn of the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology gave the following address:

"It is not often that a scientist is asked to speak on matters outside his specialty. For the honor you have done me, therefore, in asking that I speak to you tonight I do thank you. The class of 1993 also asked me to speak to them for their Baccalaureate. When I reread that talk I realized with some updating it would apply more strongly now than it did then.

"When you leave here some days from now, you will have spent sixteen years or more in school. While many of you will go on to professional training, your formal academic education is complete. The rest of your education now begins. What do you take from here that will be of use 'out there?' And what will you find 'out there?'

"You all entered college with some appreciation for the natural world, an appreciation which has probably grown in your time here. You all know something of agriculture and the environment, and many of you know something of economics and other fields. A few - bless you - know a little biochemistry. If you reflect on what you know today, however, you’ll realize you knew more about the subjects you studied when you studied them than you do now. Many of the specifics have already fled, and you are not even out the door! You might think to yourselves, 'If I had had better study habits or if I had worked harder, I might know more today.' There may be a few people in the room for whom that is true.... Even so, however good your habits and however hard you worked, much specific knowledge will have gone from you. It is the sort of knowledge which becomes engraved in the mind only if you use it regularly, and many of you will not have the need to do that, for your work and your lives will take you in other - and unexpected - directions..."

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Costantino Vetriani's lab publishes work on microbial genomics in eLife

May 24, 2017

image of Costantino Vetriani "Vetriani’s lab first isolated the T. ammonificans bacterium from a black smoker hydrothermal vent chimney on the East Pacific Rise. It thrives in hot environments rich in volcanic gases such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. 'T. ammonificans is a modern organism that lives on the planet today, but in an environment that resembles conditions on early Earth,' said senior author Vetriani. 'We can assume that some of the genetic or metabolic traits that are present today, may have been inherited from an ancestor that lived on early Earth.'

"After realizing that T. ammonificans likely stemmed from a deep branch on the tree of life, Vetriani sequenced the genome with the help of the Joint Genome Institute. But it wasn’t until Giovannelli joined Vetriani’s lab that the group was able to use bioinformatics techniques to fully analyze that genome. The researchers combined comparative genomics approaches that draw evolutionary connections between T. ammonificans and related microbes, with physiological experiments, and proteomic analyses that look at all of the proteins expressed by the bacterium. Together, these techniques enabled the researchers to reconstruct the evolutionary history of the organism and determine its early metabolism."

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Manuscript at eLife

Jeff Boyd's team publishes manuscript in eLife showing that oxygen is a signal for Staphylococcus aureus biofilm formation.

May 3, 2017

image of Ameya Mashruwala The pathogenic bacterium Staphylococcus aureus lives on the human body. Generally this bacterium co-exists with us peacefully, but sometimes certain bacteria may enter the body and cause infections. Many of these infections are thought to occur when the bacteria become able to form complex communities called biofilms. Bacteria living in a biofilm cooperate and make lifestyle choices as a community, so in this way, they behave like a single organism containing many cells. Mashruwala et al. recently published a paper in eLife showing that, when oxygen levels are low, S. aureus cells lyse themselves to increase biofilm formation. These findings could result in novel treatment to infections caused by biofilm producing bacteria.

Podcast on the Findings
Insight Article
Article Summary

Yana Bromberg, Associate Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, is the principal investigator of NSF CAREER Award: "Molecular functional diversity of microbes and microbiomes" totaling $1,091,177

image of Yana Bromberg Microbes dominate life on Earth. Evolutionary pressure exerted on microbial communities by environmental stressors such as climate change and pollution has global impact. Understanding the environment-specific microbial molecular functions is, therefore, a critical challenge. We propose to computationally analyze existing microbial genomic data using a new metric of whole organism molecular function similarity. Our function-based approach will offer a powerful new way of annotating the world's microbial functional diversity, allowing selection of environmentally optimized functionality. Applied to the influx of new "-omic" data our approach will offer a wealth of functional data to guide further experimental research. Our tools will be publicly accessible, providing a cheap, efficient, and accurate way to extract previously inaccessible meaning from the existing and newly sequenced microbial genomic data.

Ines Rauschenbach was chosen to be a mentor for the second year for the ASM Science Teaching Fellowship program.

image of Ines Rauschenbach "I have had the opportunity to participate in the Science Teaching Fellowship that is offered through ASM. I had applied for this program to increase my knowledge and practice in course design as well as creating learning outcomes and assessment projects. After the workshops, for the first time, I had finally understood how to write good learning outcomes and create meaningful activities and assessments. The support and feedback that I had received was meaningful and motivating. The program instilled confidence that I can change the way that we deliver the content of a course to a more student-centered approach. Working closely with my teaching assistants, we have now created an inquiry-based learning environment and assessment has shown that students are better able to apply and explain concepts present in the lab. The best part of the program is that you not only learn more about assessment, learning outcomes, and course design, you become part of a teaching community."

Announcement on the ASM website

Yana Bromberg, Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, SEBS, and Derek Gordon, Associate Professor in the Department of Genetics, SAS, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, are the principal investigators of an award totaling $1,475,896.

image of Yana Bromberg The project, titled AVA, Dx: Analysis of Variation for Association with Disease, is being supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Laura Elnitski, senior investigator of the Translational and Functional Genomics Branch and head of the Genomic Functional Analysis Section at the National Human Genome Research Institute, is a collaborator.

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