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2017 News

News Archive

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

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

June 20, 2017

Peter Kahn headshot.

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

Costantino Vetriani headshot.

"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."

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

Ameya Mashruwala in a lab.

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.

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

Yana Bromberg headshot.

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.

Ines Rauschenbach headshot.

"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."

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.

Yana Bromberg headshot.

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.