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DBM Graduate Jessica McCormick-Ell is Rutgers Biosafety Officer

Rutgers Today
March 12, 2020

image of Jessica McCormick-Ell

Most people, if asked by the boss to secure a facility stocked with vials of tuberculosis, would find a new job.

Jessica McCormick-Ell found her life’s calling.

She accepted the challenge and became — while still in her early 20s — the biosafety manager for the first level 3 biohazard research laboratory at what is now Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. She left the industry to get her Ph.D. in microbiology and molecular genetics, but she gladly returned shortly after receiving her degree in 2010.

She has been the Rutgers University Biosafety Officer ever since.

Read the full article at Rutgers Today

Gloria Dominguez Bello and Martin Blaser Have Great Chemistry

March 12, 2020

image of Martin Blaser and Gloria Dominguez Bello

"I was lucky to marry someone as wonderful as Gloria," says Blaser, the director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine, the Henry Rutgers Chair of the Human Microbiome and professor of medicine and microbiology at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

"There’s a lot of respect and love between us," says Dominguez-Bello, director of the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health, the Henry Rutgers Professor of Microbiome and Health in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and in the Department of Anthropology at the School of Arts and Sciences.

The couple, who investigate the microbiome – the massive collection of bodily bacteria that regulate our health – will celebrate their seventh wedding anniversary next month. Both had been married before and started dating a decade after they first met, commuting from 2008-2012 whenever they could between San Juan, Puerto Rico, where Dominguez-Bello worked as a professor at the University of Puerto Rico to New York where Blaser was teaching at New York University.

"I didn’t remember that this woman was so beautiful," Blaser remembers thinking when their paths crossed again in 2008 at a scientific meeting. "Then I realized how intelligent and how nice she was and what a good character she had."

Read the full story

Debashish Bhattacharya's Research Featured on Cover of Cell - Trends in Genetics

February 24, 2020

image of Debashish Bhattacharya

Given the catastrophic changes befalling coral reefs, understanding coral gene function is essential to advance reef conservation. This has proved challenging due to the paucity of genomic data and genetic tools available for corals. Recently, CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing was applied to these species; however, a major bottleneck is the identification and prioritization of candidate genes for manipulation. This issue is exacerbated by the many unknown (‘dark’) coral genes that may play key roles in the stress response. We review the use of gene coexpression networks that incorporate both known and unknown genes to identify targets for reverse genetic analysis. This approach also provides a framework for the annotation of dark genes in established interaction networks to improve our fundamental knowledge of coral gene function.

Read the full article at Cell

Recent Arrivals - DBM Babies!

February 18, 2020

We are excited to announce the arrival of the following munchkins:

Abi Kulczyk
Abi Kulczyk, daughter of Assistant Professor Arek Kulczyk

Simba Rudra
Simba Rudra, son of Paulami Rudra, Post-Doctoral Associate in Jeff Boyd's lab

Mark Vasy Jr.
Mark Vasy, Jr. (MJ), son of Microbiology/Microbial Biochemistry Program Administrator Lindsay Robinson

In Memoriam - Douglas E. Eveleigh

1933 - 2019

January 8, 2020

image of Douglas E. Eveleigh

It is with great sadness that we report that Douglas E. Eveleigh, an emeritus Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University, died on Dec. 30, 2019 of complications of a glioblastoma. Prof. Eveleigh served on the Rutgers faculty for forty-five years, where he was known as an exceptionally fine teacher and scholar. Professor Eveleigh's interests ranged broadly from applied microbiology (fermentation and degradation) to the history of science. Students loved his infectious humor and his skill at enlivening the study of microbiology on topics that ranged from alcoholic fermentation to the generation of swamp gas...

Read the full obituary

Gloria Dominguez Bello Coauthors Study on Urbanization and the Household Microbiome

By Pien Huang
November 14, 2019

image of Maria Gloria Dominguez Bello

The researchers studied bacteria, fungi and microscopic life, including small parasites. These microbes live with humans — on and in our bodies, and in our homes and workspaces. While some cause problems for people, others, like the yeasts and molds that help make beer and cheese, are helpful.

To compare the diversity of microbes, they sampled from four locations in increasingly urban settings: from thatched huts in a rainforest community, to city apartments in the Amazonas state capital of Manaus. The researchers swabbed surfaces such as walls, floors and countertops in homes, and they took skin swabs from pets and people.

"We create the built environment with so many artificial materials," says Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, a professor of microbiology and health at Rutgers University and a co-author on the study. "We are living enclosed in houses with decreased bacterial diversity from the environment, and increasing the diversity of chemicals that we observe."

Some of the bacteria we're shutting out are probably helpful to humans, like good gut bacteria. The different chemicals and fungi were found not just in homes, she says, but on the skin of human bodies.

Read the full article at NPR

Debashish Bhattacharya Publishes on Red Algae Gene Loss

October 29, 2019

image of Debashish Bhattacharya

You’d think that losing 25 percent of your genes would be a big problem for survival. But not for red algae, including the seaweed used to wrap sushi.

An ancestor of red algae lost about a quarter of its genes roughly one billion years ago, but the algae still became dominant in near-shore coastal areas around the world, according to Rutgers University–New Brunswick Professor Debashish Bhattacharya, who co-authored a study in the journal Nature Communications.

The research may assist in the creation of genetically altered seaweeds that could be used as crops, help to predict the spread of seaweed pests and – as the climate warms and pollution possibly increases – control invasive seaweeds that blanket shorelines.

Scientists believe the 25 percent loss in genetic material resulted from adaptation by the red algal ancestor to an extreme environment, such as hot springs or a low-nutrient habitat. That’s when the genome of these algae became smaller and more specialized. So, how did they manage to escape these challenging conditions to occupy so many different habitats?

"It is a story akin to Phoenix rising from the ashes, and the study answers an important question in evolution,” said Bhattacharya, a distinguished professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences. “This lineage has an amazing evolutionary history and the algae now thrive in a much more diverse environment than hot springs."

Read the full press release at Rutgers Today or at EurekAlert!
Read the journal article at Nature Communications

Celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Discovery of Streptomycin

October 16, 2019

image of Streptomyces griseus

Streptomycin, produced by Streptomyces griseus, was discovered by Schatz, Bugie and Waksman (1944) in the Department of Soil Bacteriology (the first such department in the country, 1901) at the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station (today's School of Environmental and Biological Sciences), the culmination of a systematic search for antimicrobials from soil microbes and other sources developed by Waksman's group over several years. The successful Rutgers streptomycin discovery spurred efforts to find further broad-spectrum antibiotics and other microbial products and was a driving force in establishing New Jersey as a world center for the pharmaceutical industry. The discovery of streptomycin at the dawn of the antibiotic era, revolutionized the practice of medicine, disease control, and enhanced surgery. Internationally, it revolutionized the practice of public health including extending human life span. Confirmation of the momentous advance of the discovery of streptomycin was recognized through the award of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1952 to Selman A. Waksman. Martin Hall (Cook Campus) one of the world's special scientific treasures is designated as an American Chemical Society Historic Landmark and a Milestones in Microbiology by the American Society for Microbiology. In 2019 Streptomyces griseus was honored as the official New Jersey State Microbe.

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Martin Blaser and Gloria Dominguez Bello Investigate the Microbiome

By the SEBS Office of Communications
October 9, 2019

image of Maria Gloria Dominguez Bello

Each of us hosts a diverse ecology of microbes that have coevolved with our species, although they predate Homo sapiens by a mere 3.7 billion years. Responsible for carrying out many metabolic and protective functions, they take up residence in the mouth, digestive tract, ears, nasal passages, skin, and vagina. Acquired by age 3, such microbes have a big role in shoring up our immunity and allowing us to do battle with disease. Our microbiome keeps us healthy; parts of it, however, have gone missing. And there is an important culprit, in Blaser’s view.

“When antibiotics were first discovered, they were so miraculous that people thought we could use them for everything,” says Blaser, the author of the award-winning Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues (Picador, 2015), which has been translated into 20 languages. “But nobody really considered what they may be doing to the microbiome. Now, it’s clear that antibiotics do a lot. Nature has a design, and every time we interfere with it through medical intervention, there is a biological cost.”

The biggest cost may occur during the formation of the microbiome, which takes place during a critical period—between birth and a child’s third birthday, according to Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello. She is a microbial ecologist who shares a research interest in the microbiome with Blaser, to whom she is married. They first collaborated more than 20 years ago when they investigated the ancestral roots of a bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori, a known cause of stomach ulcers. Dominguez-Bello is among the researchers who have demonstrated that children born by means of cesarean section are more susceptible to obesity, juvenile diabetes, and other chronic illnesses because they are not exposed to the beneficial bacteria lining the mother’s birth canal

Read the full article at the SEBS/NJAES Newsroom

Ines Rauschenbach and Ramaydalis Keddis Go Digital in Class

September 27, 2019
LabArchives Blog

image of Ines Rauschenbach

Working digitally has taken off in the education space. And in most spaces at this point. But what does a digital only learning environment actually provide? What’s the real value of switching up age old paper tradition? Just talk to Ines Rauschenbach and Ramaydalis Keddis from Rutgers University who have been in the digital only game since before it was mainstream.

The two took their lab courses “digital only” with LabArchives five years ago. And after spending a half decade ahead of the curve here’s what they have to say to anyone considering a move towards digital… “Just go for it and don’t look back.”

Ines coordinates introductory and applied microbiology while Ramaydalis coordinates general microbiology and is in charge of TAs, equipment and technology. Both teach morning to night most days and manage eight TAs.

They use LabArchives to achieve their digital only model in General Microbiology which has 200 students per semester in thirteen sections. They also use LabArchives in Introductory and Applied Microbiology courses. Sometimes the two team teach. But what prompted them to go digital in the first place?

The convenience factor seems like it would’ve been an obvious motivator for Ines and Ramaydalis who both wear multiple hats within their departments. But biosafety is what pushed them to go digital within their teaching lab environments. Little did they know, the switch would also bring massive benefits in terms of saving them time and increasing efficiency.

Read the full article at the LabArchives Blog

Debashish Bhattacharya Publishes Research on Red Algae

May 30, 2019

image of Debashish Bhattacharya

It's a case of grand larceny that could lead to new fuels and cleanup chemicals. Ten species of red algae stole about 1 percent of their genes from bacteria to cope with toxic metals and salt stress in hot springs, according to a study in the journal eLife.

These red algal species, known as Cyanidiales, also stole many genes that allow them to absorb and process different sources of carbon in the environment to provide additional sources of energy and supplement their photosynthetic lifestyle.

"The role of stolen genes in eukaryotes, which include most living things such as algae, has been hotly debated and many think it is unimportant and plays little to no role in their biology," said co-author Debashish Bhattacharya, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. "Our robust genome data provide the first major evidence that this is a false narrative and that adaptation to a challenging environment can be directly facilitated by stolen genes."...

...The next steps are to build genetic tools to study the red algal species and conduct more lab tests to determine if they turn on bacterial genes, as expected, under stress. Julia Van Etten, a doctoral student in the Bhattacharya lab, recently received a three-year NASA award to conduct these studies with Cyanidiales.

Read the full article at the SEBS/NJAES Newsroom

Gloria Dominguez Bello Establishes Family Friendly Space on Cook Campus

May 30, 2019

image of Maria Gloria Dominguez Bello

A significant advance has recently been made at Rutgers: a Family Friendly Space (FFS) to accommodate mothers having their babies onsite for nursing has opened at the Rutgers School of Environmental and Biological Sciences on the Cook campus in New Brunswick. The FFS serves as a free facility where lactating mothers can come to work or school, have their babies nearby, and use the space to nurse or pump. Located in the Food Science & Nutritional Sciences building in the space that formerly served as Dudley's Café, the facility includes a semi-private area for babies to sleep; a private area to nurse or express, a changing station with sink; a social area, and a work area with WiFi. Its function is not to serve as a daycare facility, but rather as a club for families with nursing babies to utilize the space and develop a social network. Lactating mothers will have access to the facility whenever they need it, making their own arrangements for the baby's care.

Henry Rutgers Professor of Microbiome and Health Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, from the departments of Biochemistry and Microbiology and Anthropology, established the FFS with the intent to not only empower young families, but to also serve as a venue for research on babies' health and development. Research will be conducted looking at differences in babies that are directly breastfed versus those fed bottled breast milk that has been expressed previously. "Nursing is more than just the milk," said Dominguez-Bello, "It's about bonding, the mothers and babies will be happier, and babies will be getting the correct milk at the right time with the fluctuations in hormones that are different in the morning than in the evening." The direct contact may contribute to the development of the baby's healthy microbiome which can be altered by stress generated from lack of maternal-baby lactation bonding.

Read the full article at the SEBS/NJAES Newsroom

Department Hosts Wageningen University Students at Symposium

July 18, 2019

image of Gerben Zylstra On Thursday, June 13, 2019, The Deptartment of Biochemistry and Microbiology and the Graduate Program in Microbial Biology hosted students and faculty from Wageningen University (Netherlands) for a 1-day symposium. Distinguished Professor Gerben Zylstra, Program Director of Microbial Biology served as host at the event at which graduate students from Rutgers and Wageningen presented their research.

image of Wageningen Symposium attendees

Peter Kahn Publishes Research in Protein Science

May 30, 2019

image of Peter Kahn The energetics, density, mobility, and other properties of water molecules that interact with other molecules in living cells differ dramatically from those of ordinary water. When proteins, which are synthesized as amino acid chains, fold up to compact, biochemically active structures, and when enzymes bind the molecules on which they act during metabolism, hydrating water is expelled from the interacting surfaces. Its changes in density, detected by volume changes, give insight into fundamental life processes.

Read the article at Protein Science

Jeff Boyd Receives SEBS Research Excellence Award

May 30, 2019

image of Max Haggblom, Jeff Boyd and Laura Lawson

Jeff Boyd, the 2019 recipient of the SEBS Research Excellence Award, has established himself as an expert in microbial biochemistry and physiology. At Rutgers he has developed a vibrant research program at the interface between chemistry and biology, that focuses on understanding how critical cellular components of pathogenic bacteria coordinate to produce a living organism with a robust and responsive metabolism, i.e. his works decipher how they function. Currently, his research focuses on two opportunistic pathogens and leading causes of nosocomial infections: the Gram-positive bacterium, Staphylococcus aureus and the Gram-negative bacterium, Salmonella enterica. In addition, he is using Bacillus subtilis as a model. He is interested in how they process intracellular metals: how metals kill microorganisms, how microorganisms detoxify them, and how microorganisms use them for efficient metabolism. Jeff’s scholarship takes advantage of his expertise in biochemistry, physiology, and molecular genetics and is providing seminal contributions to our understanding of how bacteria use metals in metabolism and how they synthesize metal cofactors, processes that are essential for life on Earth. His scholarship addresses key questions relevant to medicine, microbial pathogenesis, and biotechnology and has attracted international attention. Boyd’s work is supported by the Johnson and Johnson Foundation, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and two major grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIH) and the National Science Foundation. His scholarship is recognized by a prestigious NSF Career Award in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Indeed, he is indeed a rising star in the field of microbial biochemistry.

See all Excellence Award recipients at the SEBS/NJAES Newsroom

Peter Kahn Receives SEBS Barbara Munson Goff Teacher of the Year Award

May 30, 2019

image of Laura Lawson, Peter Kahn and Dianamaria Custis

Peter Kahn, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, has been a member of the faculty since 1976. Among the many honors he’s received in his long Rutgers career is the 2018 Clement A. Price Human Dignity Award for his “distinguished leadership for over 40 years advancing social responsibility and forging intercultural collaborations, including the global Bosnian Student Project.” He’s served as the local coordinator for the Bosnian Student Project, a volunteer relief effort that placed students—whose education had been disrupted by the wars in the former Yugoslavia—in high schools and colleges throughout the U.S., including placing 17 students here at Rutgers. The university provided tuition scholarships while Professor Kahn, with help from colleagues, raised funds to cover all other expenses, plus found host families. For his extraordinary humanity, Kahn has won the admiration of his peers and the Rutgers community, and the gratitude of many young scholars from that region. He’s taught thousands of students over the course of the past four decades and is deeply humbled to receive this award.

See all Excellence Award recipients at the SEBS/NJAES Newsroom

Donato Giovannelli and Costa Vetriani Publish Paper on Carbon Sequestration in Subduction Zones

May 2, 2019

image of Costa Vetriani and Donato Giovannelli

Donato Giovannelli and Costantino Vetriani are co-authors of a multi-institution paper published last week in Nature. This paper reports how carbon sequestration in the forearc regions of subduction zones reduces CO2 transfer to the mantle and, eventually, its release from backarc volcanoes, with potentially relevant effects on the discharge of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. Subsurface chemosynthetic microorganisms likely play an important role in CO2 sequestration in the forearc region, as they incorporate CO2 in their biomass and possibly participate in calcite deposition. This paper shows how plate tectonics and subsurface microbiology work in concert and affect the carbon budget on our planet.

Donato Giovannelli, now a faculty member at the University of Naples, Italy, led the Rutgers effort. Francesco Smedile (a former post-doc in Costa’s lab, now at the Italian National Research Council) and Sushmita Patwardhan (a recent PhD graduate in the oceanography program from Costa’s lab, now at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle) also co-authored the paper.

Read the press release at Rutgers Today
Read the paper in Nature

Keith Cooper Publishes Study on Microplastics in NJ Rivers

March 26, 2019

image of Keith Cooper

Keith Cooper, study co-author and professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, showed that microplastics led to abnormal growth and heart defects in larval zebrafish during lab testing. It’s not known whether the plastic particles themselves or the chemicals in them were responsible.

The researchers, who sampled 15 locations in the Raritan River and 10 locations in the Passaic River, found densities of about 28,000 to more than 3 million plastic particles per square kilometer. That does not include the tiniest pieces too small for the nets to capture. The most frequently recovered microplastics (38 percent) were fragments from larger plastic items, followed by foam from polystyrene, fibers and filaments, film from broken-down bags and wrappers, and small pellets. Most of the collected microplastics (71 percent) were 1 to 4.5-plus millimeters long, smaller than a grain of rice.

The study found that Passaic River densities were 10 times greater than in the Raritan River, which may be due to the greater population density in the highly urbanized Passaic River watershed. Sources of microplastics may include industrial, municipal or stormwater outfalls discharging into the rivers or their tributaries, [Center for Urban Environmental Sustainability co-director Beth] Ravit said.

"The environmental ramifications, such as how microplastics might move through food chains and how associated compounds might accumulate in organisms, are not yet known,” she said. “But scientists are finding microplastics in finfish and shellfish."

Study co-authors at Rutgers included Gina Moreno, an environmental sciences graduate student in the School of Graduate Studies; Brian Buckley, executive director of laboratories at the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute; Dayvonn Jones in the Environmental Sciences Undergraduate Program; and former undergraduates Daniel Baron and Amy Hsieh.

Read the full article at the SEBS/NJAES Newsroom
Read the research article at the AIMS Environmental Science

Keith Cooper Chairs NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute

Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Pose a Serious Health Threat to Humans

February 26, 2019

image of Keith Cooper

Dr. Keith Cooper has been serving as the Chairperson for the NJ Drinking Water Quality Institute (NJDWQI) and a member of the Health Effects subcommittee while developing drinking water Maximum Concentration Levels (MCLs) for PFNA, PFOS and PFOA. For more information, please visit the NJDWQI website.

These compounds have been in commercial use since the 1950s and have made their way into drinking water supplies and wildlife around the country and in New Jersey. The fluorine-carbon bonds make these compounds highly resistant to breakdown and in the NHANES studies a number of these compounds have been found in blood. Both epidemiology studies and traditional toxicology studies have revealed many adverse health effects associated with several of the PFAS compounds. These effects range from developmental effects, altered cholesterol homeostasis, decreased vaccine efficacy and cancer. State actions have resulted in promulgation of MCLs for drinking water and fish advisories. Treatment options, activated carbon, RO and others due exist to remove multiple PFASs to levels at or below the proposed MCLs. Recent actions proposed by the USEPA to further study these compounds and delay a federal MCL promulgation has resulted in the states having to initiate and adopt their own MCLs.

Watch the news report at NJTV Online.

Jeff Boyd Publishes Staph Bacteria Gene Discovery

Rutgers Today
February 11, 2019

image of Jeff Boyd

A Rutgers-led team has discovered two genes that make some strains of harmful Staphyloccocus bacteria resistant to treatment by copper, a potent and frequently used antibacterial agent.

The discovery shows that Staphyloccocus aureus can acquire additional genes that promote infections and antibacterial resistance and may open new paths for the development of antibacterial drugs, according to a study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Researchers at Rutgers University–New Brunswick found the two genes in some strains of S. aureus bacteria. The genes protect the germs from copper, which is increasingly used in the global fight against severe infections.

The Staphylococcus aureus bacterium – a leading cause of serious and life-threatening infections in the United States – is highly resistant to antibiotics. Some strains of S. aureus have newly acquired genes embedded in their genome in pieces of DNA called transposons. DNA can be transferred from one organism to another, and transposons help the acquired DNA rapidly become a permanent part of the recipient’s chromosome.

Transposons aid in the spread of genes that can give rise to bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and more likely to cause disease. The newly discovered genes are encoded within a transposon.

This process likely contributed to the recent North American epidemic of staph infections, according to Jeffrey M. Boyd, study senior author and associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology in Rutgers’ School of Environmental and Biological Sciences...

...The study was conducted mainly by Rutgers students Zuelay Rosario-Cruz, Nourhan Daigham and Hassan Al-Tameemi, along with University at Buffalo (UB) staff scientist Alexander Eletsky. Rutgers Professor Peter Kahn and staff scientist G.V.T. Swapna; UB Distinguished Professor Thomas Szyperski also contributed.

Read the full article at Rutgers Today

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Debashish Bhattacharya Publishes Research on Sea Lettuce

By Debashish Bhattacharya in National Fisherman
January 30, 2019

image of Debashish Bhattacharya

Olivier De Clerck at Ghent University in Belgium led this international study, and doctoral student Fatima Foflonker and I coauthored it. The outcome was exciting and opened up new avenues in sea lettuce research.

We found that the genome is comprised of about 98.5 million bases (i.e., A, C, G, T; ours is 3 billion bases) and contains 12,994 protein coding genes. Despite being multicellular, the genome did not show the typical footprints of gene family expansion associated with this increase in complexity, suggesting Ulva has made the transition in a novel way that needs to be investigated.

Ulva is fascinating because it relies on bacterial help to gain its typical blade-like form and cannot develop normally in a bacterium-free axenic culture. This observation led the research team to search for instances of bacterial gene transfer to the Ulva genome that may contribute to its biology. It is now well understood that, like the human gut microbiome, many other species also need microbes to grow and develop normally. This bioinformatic search turned up only 13 strong candidates of bacterial gene transfer, but most were expanded by gene duplication after their introduction, suggesting they play key roles in sea lettuce biology. An exceptional case is haem peroxidase, an enzyme that occurs in 36 copies and is involved in scavenging hydrogen peroxide that can result from high-light stress. The enzyme also plays a role in cell wall modification. The intertidal zone is bathed in full sunlight at low tide; therefore, the haem peroxidase gene family derived from a bacterial gene may help Ulva survive this hostile environment. The researchers also described the sulfur metabolic pathways in Ulva and the role of this seaweed in the global sulfur cycle.

Read the full article at National Fisherman

Gloria Dominguez Bello International Research Featured by SEBS/NJAES Newsroom

January 23, 2019

image of Maria Gloria Dominguez Bello

How do modern lifestyle practices—from the way we eat to the way we treat diseases—impact the human microbiome? That’s the question leading the research interests of Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, whose most recent work centers on how the microbiomes of babies born vaginally can differ from those delivered via cesarean section. "Babies born via C-section bypass the birth canal, and therefore miss their first exposure to the microbes there,” she explains. “This research attempts to restore this exposure and measure the effect on the microbiome."

So far, she has studied babies in Puerto Rico, New York, Spain, and Chile. Preliminary results show that there are indeed differences in the microbiome of C-section babies, and that a restoration method can work. "If we can understand what is driving immunity disorders—asthma, allergies, celiac, and others—and which microbes are needed at what age, we can try to restore them," Dominguez-Bello says of future translational impacts. "The real probiotics are yet to come."

View the article at the SEBS/NJAES Newsroom

Julia Van Etten Turns Microorganisms into Art, Becomes Vital Part of Genome Research

By Cynthia Medina, Rutgers Today
January 18, 2019

image of Julia Van Etten

Julia Van Etten’s Couch Microscopy Instagram page has attracted close to 18,000 followers in a year and a half, thanks to her breathtakingly detailed videos and photos of diatoms, algae, plankton, insect larvae and other microorganisms collected from New Jersey bodies of water. The images, captured with a $315 microscope, have garnered attention from scientists, artists and everyone in between.

A doctoral student in ecology and evolution is turning microorganisms into art, and her hobby into a powerful tool for genomics studies at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

Julia Van Etten’s Couch Microscopy Instagram page has attracted close to 18,000 followers in a year and a half, thanks to her breathtakingly detailed videos and photos of diatoms, algae, plankton, insect larvae and other microorganisms collected from New Jersey bodies of water. The images, captured with a $315 microscope, have garnered attention from scientists, artists and everyone in between.

Read the full article at Rutgers Today

Ines Rauschenbach Interviewed about Open and Affordable Textbook Program Grant

Rutgers University Libraries
January 8, 2019

image of Ines Rauschenbach

Rutgers faculty use OAT Program awards to provide more individualized learning experiences for their students. For instance, award recipient Ines Rauschenbach, assistant teaching professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, plans to replace the generic lab experiments that would be included in a traditionally published lab manual for her introduction to microbiology course with inquiry-based lessons that she designs herself and delivers to students for free via iPads.

“Inquiry-based lessons are more effective because the students are working hands-on and learning how to critically think,” noted Rauschenbach. “Between buying a book for the course, buying a lab manual, buying goggles, buying a lab coat—it’s a lot of money, it adds up. If we can provide these resources not only that we have prepared, but that are free, it adds value to the course and shows that we care.”

View the full article at Rutgers University Libraries

Keith Cooper Sits on Roundtable Panel on NJ Drinking Water

NJ Spotlight
December 13, 2018

image of Keith Cooper

New Jersey has led efforts to keep PFAS, a class of toxic chemicals, out of our drinking water. Experts at an NJ Spotlight Roundtable discussed the emergence of substitutes that may be just as hazardous to human health.

PFASs are widespread in the environment and have been found more often in New Jersey’s drinking water than in many other ros.

As states including New Jersey set strict health limits on some of the chemicals, our panelists examined questions including:

  • What the chemicals have been used for, and how they got into the water source;
  • Why they are seen as a threat to public health, even at low levels;
  • What policies campaigners want to see from state and federal governments;
  • What the military is doing to clean up water sources on and around its bases;
  • How leading water systems and municipal providers are responding to rising public and governmental concern on the issue.

View the article at NJ Spotlight

Department Featured in SEBS Explorations Magazine

December 11, 2018

fall 2018 Explorations cover featuring Michelle Zeliph The Fall 2018 edition of Explorations Magazine, published by the Office of Alumni and Community Engagement for Rutgers SEBS and NJAES, featured the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology. The article highlights the department's history and significant achievements, as well as current research and opportunities to study and attend conferences abroad.

From the article, "Over a Century in the Making":

If there’s one thing that defines the history and future of the study of biochemistry and microbiology, it’s collaboration. It was collaboration that first merged these two previously separate departments in 1965 to become what it is today, and it’s what will propel groundbreaking research in both areas moving forward.

This spirit of working together is alive and well when it comes to microbiology, even within Rutgers’ own campus. “Microbiology is so widespread at Rutgers,” says distinguished professor and department chair Max Häggblom. “There are microbiologists at a dozen or more departments across the university, and our department is tasked with bringing all of this expertise together.”

Read the full article in the fall 2018 issue of Explorations (PDF)

Gloria Dominguez-Bello Publishes Article in Scientific Reports on Neonatal Microbiome

Rutgers Today
November 19, 2018

image of Gloria Dominguez

Infants born at home have more diverse bacteria in their guts and feces, which may affect their developing immunity and metabolism, according to a study in Scientific Reports.

Understanding why babies born at home have more diverse microbiota for at least a month after birth, compared with those born in a hospital, could help prevent disease later in life. The human microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses that live on and in our bodies, many of which benefit our health and prevent chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, asthma and gut inflammatory disorders. Microbes transmitted from mother to baby help prevent chronic disease.

"The reasons for the differences between infants born at home versus in hospitals are not known, but we speculate that common hospital interventions like early infant bathing and antibiotic eye prophylaxis or environmental factors – like the aseptic environment of the hospital – may be involved,” said senior author Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, a professor in Rutgers University—New Brunswick’s Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology and Department of Anthropology.

Read the full article at Rutgers Today

Folasade Olajuyigbe's NGO Gives Scholarships to Girls in STEM

The News Chronicle
November 19, 2018

image of Folasade Olajuyigbe

Fulbright Scholar Dr. Folasade Olajuyigbe, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry at the Fedural University of Technology in Akure, Nigera, visited the lab of Dr. Max Häggblom in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers University from October 2017 to July 2018.

The Women’s Dignity Initiative Inc. (WDII) has given scholarships to 6 indigent female students from rural communities in Ondo State.

The WDII is a Non-Governmental Organization, NGO founded by Dr. Mrs. Folasade Olajuyigbe, of the Department of Biochemistry, Federal University of Technology, Akure [FUTA].

WDII provides scholarships to financially challenged but gifted and promising girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics [STEM] in remote villages in Nigeria, empowering them through mentorship, training and participation in scientific conferences.

The scholarship, made up of Tuition Fee, science Textbooks, Mathematical sets and school bags, was presented in an award ceremony and the official presentation of WDII at the Theodore Idibiye Francis Auditorium, Federal University of Technology, Akure.

Speaking at the occasion, Dr. Olajuyigbe, a Fulbright Scholar and Schlumberger Faculty for the future fellow disclosed that the awardees were successful candidates from selected remote villages in Ondo State who participated in an examination organized by WDII.

She said eighteen schools were contacted to nominate their two best girls in mathematics and 6 candidates emerged winners of the scholarship examination held on the 4th of August, 2018.

Speaking on the vision behind the initiative, Olajuyigbe said "the challenges of living in rural areas are numerous. Few who attend schools have secondary school as their ultimate. Girls in these areas are from very humble backgrounds and are prone to early marriages, teenage pregnancy, cultural and religious misinterpretation and sexually transmitted diseases; this cycle continues from one generation to another."

She said the aim is to build girls who are conscious of their potentials, who have self-esteem and are self-confident.

Read more at The News Chronicle

Gloria Dominguez-Bello Quoted in NPR Article on Gut Microbiome and Weight

By Maanvi Singh, NPR
November 6, 2018

image of Gloria Dominguez

"In speaking with community members, we also realized that for them, the biggest concern was obesity," says Vangay. "Because they had observed in themselves and their relatives and friends that when they moved to the U.S., they gained a lot of weight. And in some cases, they hadn't really changed too much about their diet."

This new study is a good first step in solving that mystery, says Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, a microbiologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey who wasn't involved in the research.

"I strongly believe this whole topic needs to be studied more rigorously, in more immigrant groups and people all over the world," she says. "Because one thing is clear: Human populations are migrating, and they are increasingly Westernizing. We need to know how those changes are going to affect our health."

Further research could also reveal what immigrants — and all Americans — who are struggling with obesity can do to improve their health. In the future, perhaps researchers may be able to develop probiotics that immigrants could take to compensate for microbes they've lost, Dominguez-Bello suggests.

Read the full article at NPR

Assoc. Prof. Jeff Boyd and Dist. Prof. Emer. Doug Eveleigh Quoted in Popular Science

by Benji Jones
November 1, 2018

image of Doug Eveleigh and Jeff Boyd

In times of old, as legend goes, travelers wandering near a marsh would see the flicker of a light in the distance and confuse it with the glow of a candle from a far-away home. But there was no home and no candle. As they followed the glimmer into the wetland, the light would disappear—but not before the betrayed wanderers found themselves lost among the reeds, where many of them met their chilling end.

This fiery orb, typically seen above stagnant water, became personified in European folklore. Some historical accounts say it was considered a satanic sprite that wielded a fleeting wisp of fire, earning it the name 'Will with the wisp,' or will-o'-the-wisp. In other tales, it was the lost soul of a man named Jack. After being denied entry to the underworld, he haunted the night with a homemade light—a burning piece of coal inside a carved turnip—and became known as "Jack with the lantern," or jack-o'-lantern...

These real-life jack-o'-lanterns most likely occur when a blend of natural gas rises to the surface of a mire, says Jeff Boyd, a microbial biochemist at Rutgers University. Unlike oceans and lakes, bog water is stagnant and oxygen-deprived. This creates the perfect environment for anaerobic bacteria and archaea—microorganisms that live without oxygen—to thrive. And many of them belong to a group known as methanogens.

What exactly is a methanogen? "They make a living by eating dead plant material,” Boyd says. “As they break it down, one of the byproducts can be methane gas—the same gas that people are fracking for. When it forms in anaerobic environments, it can get trapped underwater, only to be released by a physical disturbance"...

The first European settlers learned just how flammable bogs can be in what some consider the first American science experiment. In 1783, while George Washington waited in Princeton, New Jersey for the freshly-signed Treaty of Paris to arrive, he killed time with a debate: He argued with fellow revolutionary Thomas Paine and his soldiers about how these mysterious will o' the wisp flames (which were already well-documented at the time) formed. While Washington and Paine blamed natural gas for the eerie glow, some of his soldiers disagreed.

"To settle the argument, they decided to take a pontoon out on the swamp-like Millstone River," says Doug Eveleigh, an applied microbiologist at Rutgers. "They took long poles and probed the mud, while holding a flame above the river."

Moments later, a "great, big flash" erupted from the water, says Eveleigh, who reenacted the feat in 2008, to commemorate its 225th anniversary. "I believe it was the first real scientific American experiment."

Read the full article at Popular Science

Debashish Bhattacharya Discovers How Some Algae May Survive Climate Change

October 12, 2018

image of Debashish Bhattacharya

Green algae that evolved to tolerate hostile and fluctuating conditions in salt marshes and inland salt flats are expected to survive climate change, thanks to hardy genes they stole from bacteria, according to a Rutgers-led study.

These Picochlorum single-celled species of green algae provide clues to how nature can modify genomes, and suggest ways in which scientists may someday engineer more robust algae to serve as biofuels and provide other benefits, according to senior author Debashish Bhattacharya, distinguished professor at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

The study appears in the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Read the full article at Rutgers Today

Gloria Dominguez-Bello Calls for Microbial "Noah's Ark" to Protect Global Health

By Neal Buccino, Rutgers Today
October 5, 2018

image of Gloria Dominguez

A Rutgers University–New Brunswick-led team of researchers is calling for the creation of a global microbiota vault to protect the long-term health of humanity.

Such a Noah’s Ark of beneficial germs would be gathered from human populations whose microbiomes are uncompromised by antibiotics, processed diets and other ill effects of modern society, which have contributed to a massive loss of microbial diversity and an accompanying rise in health problems. The human microbiome includes the trillions of microscopic organisms that live in and on our bodies, contributing to our health in a myriad of ways.

The researchers, who outline their proposal this week in the journal Science, liken their idea to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the world’s largest collection of crop diversity created in case of natural or human-made disasters.

“We’re facing a growing global health crisis, which requires that we capture and preserve the diversity of the human microbiota while it still exists,” said Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, the lead author and a professor in Rutgers–New Brunswick’s Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology and Department of Anthropology. “These microbes co-evolved with humans over hundreds of millennia. They help us digest food, strengthen our immune system and protect against invading germs. Over a handful of generations, we have seen a staggering loss in microbial diversity linked with a worldwide spike in immune and other disorders.”

Read the full article at Rutgers Today

Also see:
How Stuff Works
New York Times
New Atlas
US News & World Report
Daily Mail
The Guardian

Debashish Bhattacharya Receives Three-Year $611,311 Grant from the National Science Foundation

October 2, 2018

image of Debashish Bhattacharya

Debashish Bhattacharya, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology has received a three-year $611,311 grant from the National Science Foundation to build a comprehensive model for the coral stress response using genomic and physiological data. The work is entitled, Elucidating Adaptive Potential through Coral Holobiont Functional Integration. The project field site is at the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology in Oahu and includes coral ecologist Hollie Putnam (PI) at the University of Rhode Island and bioinformatics specialist Arik Harel (Co-PI) at the Institute of Plant Sciences in The Volcani Center in Israel. The total NSF support for the proposal is $1.1 million with additional funding provided by the Binational Science Foundation for the Israeli partner.

Read more

Discovery of New Delivery System for Antimicrobials

October 1, 2018

image of Jeff Boyd

A team of Rutgers scientists has discovered a novel delivery system for the delivery of antimicrobials. Teams of scientists led by Tewodros Asefa (Departments of Chemistry & Chemical Biology and Chemical & Biological Engineering) and Jeff Boyd (Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology) synthesized silica-based nanoparticles that contained an antimicrobial.

The particles were found to efficiently kill two human bacterial pathogens. Interestingly, the particles were more effective at killing than the antimicrobial possibly highlighting a more efficient process for drug delivery. Bacteria are rapidly evolving resistances to antibiotics and these findings could aid in the application of antimicrobial therapy to prevent bacterial infections or inhibit the growth of bacteria in unwanted locations. This study also opens the door to synthesizing new nan-particles containing alternate antimicrobials.

The study was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Read more at Rutgers Today.

schematic 1
Figure 1. Schematic illustration of the synthetic procedure, drug release, and antimicrobial mode of action of BAC-SiO2.

Gloria Dominguez-Bello's Research on the Diversity of Gut Microbes in Rainforest-Dwelling Communities Featured

By the Rutgers Office of Communications
September 7, 2018

image of Gloria Dominguez

Can immersing yourself in a South American jungle and the high-fiber, unprocessed diet of its villagers make your gut microbes more diverse? And could it have benefits for people with obesity, type 1 diabetes and other disorders?

A study led by Rutgers University­­–New Brunswick researchers followed seven city-dwelling adults and children who lived in a remote Venezuelan jungle village without electricity, soap or other amenities for 16 days.

For the children, their microbiome – the beneficial germs in their intestines, skin, mouths and noses – became more diverse, with higher proportions of helpful bacteria. A similar change did not occur in the adults who visited the rainforest.

The study appears in the journal mSphere.

"The findings suggest dietary interventions to encourage a more diverse microbiome may best succeed in children, while the microbiome of adults may be more resistant to change," said senior researcher Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, a professor in Rutgers–New Brunswick’s Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology and Department of Anthropology.

Read the full article at the SEBS/NJAES Newsroom

Twelve-Year-Old Student Takes Bill Ward's Summer Course

By Beth Salomon, Rutgers Today
August 6, 2018

image of William Ward

“Atharva is a wonderful kid and a scientist at heart," Bhanot said. "He is always asking questions and is never afraid to challenge authority. He reads, he thinks and he discusses deep and difficult topics. I predict he will become a great scientist and make many discoveries.”

...“As a child, he was always excited about science, animals, medicine and anatomy. He wanted to watch videos about life science topics and was persistent in asking questions,” said his mother, who was instrumental in recommending the Rutgers Summer Scholars program.

The course, called “Experimenting with Green Florescent Protein,” is a biochemistry instructional program for gifted and talented pre-college and college students. The program centers around green-fluorescent protein (GFP) and is taught by William Ward, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers-New Brunswick.

The west coast jellyfish that contain this fluorescent protein are exciting teaching tools in biochemistry and molecular biology. Cloning of GFP has enabled tracking of nerve cell proliferation, stem cell colonization, tissue regeneration, cancer metastasis and other processes central to biomedicine.

Read the full article at

Debashish Bhattacharya's Research on Coral Reefs Featured

By the Rutgers Office of Communications
June 26, 2018

image of Debashish Bhattacharya

The research of Debashish Bhattacharya, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, is centered on how coral deals with environmental stress. The hope is that these findings can help inform protections for the population going forward. “We’ve done analysis of how higher temperatures and low pH levels impact the growth and physiology of the coral,” he says, “as well as how the entire coral animal itself deals with these conditions.”

By working with collaborators from the University of Hawaii, Bhattacharya has been able to attain samples of both resistant and vulnerable populations of coral that endured a bleaching event. “If you want to understand how they withstand stress and how they can do so going forward, we must look at the genome of the animal, the algae on it, and the bacteria that makes up the microbiome,” he explains. “We want to sequence the metagenomes of these samples and figure out which bacteria were present and which have confirmed resistance to stress. We also want to know how that microbiome changes during the stress period.”

Read the full article at the SEBS/NJAES Newsroom

Jeff Boyd Receives NSF Career Award Grant of $1,033,667

June 4, 2018

image of Jeff Boyd

Associate Professor Jeff Boyd, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, has received a grant for $1,033,667 from the National Science Foundation for his project titled “CAREER: Iron-sulfur cluster assembly in Bacillus subtilis.” The NSF defines the CAREER award as “the National Science Foundation's most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.” The awarded grant covers a five-year period for the project which aims to 1) examine how the bacterium Bacillus subtilis builds inorganic cofactors called iron-sulfur (FeS) clusters and maintains proteins that require FeS clusters, and 2) use his research program as a platform to educate postdoctoral scholars, undergraduate and graduate students, and the public.

Read the full article
Read more at the SEBS/NJAES Newsroom

Jeff Boyd Promoted to Associate Professor and Receives $1,881,000 Grant

May 24, 2018

image of Jeff Boyd

Associate Professor Jeff Boyd, Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology, has received a grant for $1,881,000 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for his project titled “Mechanisms of cellular respiration-dependent cell lysis and its impact on biofilm formation and disassembly in Staphylococcus aureus.” This grant covers a five-year period for the project which aims to examine the environmental signals and mechanisms that influence biofilm formation and biofilm dispersal in the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, a human pathogen.

Read the full article

Peter Kahn Receives Clement A. Price Human Dignity Award

May 24, 2018

image of Peter Kahn

The criteria for the Award are embedded in Prof. Kahn’s activities over his 41 years of service at Rutgers. At every opportunity he weaves matters of human dignity into his teaching and his other activities. He not only feels compassion for students in need, but acts on their behalf, such as the Bosnian Student Project in which over a period of several years 17 students earned bachelor’s degrees, while an 18th earned her doctorate. Prof Kahn has played a central role in forging intercultural cooperation and collaboration and made major efforts in reducing prejudice and promoting respect for diversity. He sets an example of what it means to act upon a sense of social responsibility.

Read more at the SEBS/NJAES Newsroom

Ning Zhang Publishes Study on Crop Fungus in Scientific Reports

By Todd B. Bates
May 7, 2018

image of Ning Zhang

About 21 million years ago, a fungus that causes a devastating disease in rice first became harmful to the food that nourishes roughly half the world's population, according to an international study led by Rutgers University New Brunswick scientists.

The findings may help lead to different ways to fight or prevent crop and plant diseases, such as new fungicides and more effective quarantines.

Rice blast, the staple's most damaging fungal disease, destroys enough rice to feed 60 million people annually. Related fungal pathogens (disease-causing microorganisms) also infect turfgrasses, causing summer patch and gray leaf spot that damage lawns and golf courses in New Jersey and elsewhere every summer. And now a new fungal disease found in wheat in Brazil has spread to other South American countries.

Results from the study published online in Scientific Reports may lead to better plant protection and enhanced national quarantine policies, said Ning Zhang, study lead author and associate professor in the Department of Plant Biology and the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences.

Read the full story at Rutgers Today
Read the study in Scientific Reports

Debashish Bhattacharya's Research on Green Energy Published in Molucular Biology and Evolution

By Todd B. Bates
May 3, 2018

image of sea slug

In an amazing achievement akin to adding solar panels to your body, a Northeast sea slug sucks raw materials from algae to provide its lifetime supply of solar-powered energy, according to a study by Rutgers University New Brunswick and other scientists.

"It's a remarkable feat because it's highly unusual for an animal to behave like a plant and survive solely on photosynthesis," said Debashish Bhattacharya, senior author of the study and distinguished professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology at Rutgers New Brunswick. "The broader implication is in the field of artificial photosynthesis. That is, if we can figure out how the slug maintains stolen, isolated plastids to fix carbon without the plant nucleus, then maybe we can also harness isolated plastids for eternity as green machines to create bioproducts or energy. The existing paradigm is that to make green energy, we need the plant or alga to run the photosynthetic organelle, but the slug shows us that this does not have to be the case."

Read the full story at Rutgers Today
Read the study in Molecular Biology and Evolution

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...

Read the full obituary

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."

View Press Release at EurekAlert!
View Feature at Rutgers Today
View Full Article

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

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...

Read more about the State Microbe Initiative

View Featured Reports:

Meet the NJ Microbe on Simply Science
WHYY interview with Max Haggblom and Jeff Boyd
It's Official!
Bill Passes Both Houses!
NJ Assembly votes on bill to designate state microbe
NJ Senate votes unanimously to designate state microbe How Albert Schatz and Selman Waksman discovered Streptomycin Meet Streptomyces Griseus
94.5 WPST
New Jersey Monthly
Liberty Science Center Announces Support for State Microbe
NJTV covers "Microbes Rule" at Liberty Science Center
The Daily Targum
Audio of NJ State Assembly hearing, Sept. 17, (at 27:10) feat. statements by Dr. John Warhol (28:33), Professor Emeritus Doug Eveleigh (32:40) and Assoc. Prof. Jeff Boyd (41:00).
Featured in NJ Spotlight!



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..."

Read the full address

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."

Read the full article at
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.