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Meet the Microbiologist

Meet the Microbiologist is a podcast that showcases the people behind the scientific discoveries. Each guest introduces their research in one of the cutting-edge areas of the microbial sciences: genomics, antibiotic resistance, synthetic biology, emerging infectious diseases, microbial ecology, public health, probiotics, and more! You no longer have to suffer in silence: learn about epidemiology as you run errands, explore drug discovery as you drive home, delve into microbial genomics at the gym. Each guest discusses their scientific discoveries and where future technologies may lead. Meet the Microbiologist, hosted by Julie Wolf, was previously titled Meet the Scientist, hosted by Merry Buckley and Carl Zimmer.

Monday, 07 December 2009 13:34

MTS39 - Paul Turner- Pandemic in a Petri Dish

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In this episode I talk with Paul Turner, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Yale University.

2009 saw the emergence of a new strain of H1N1 flu. Scientists soon determined that the virus had leaped from pigs to humans and then spread to millions of people.

When viruses make this kind of leap it's a reason to worry. In 1918 when a strain of flu leapt from birds to humans, 50 million people died in a matter of months. So far the new H1N1 flu strain is behaving like a relatively ordinary flu. Still even ordinary flu is a matter of serious concern. Over 4,000 people in the US alone have died from the new H1N1 flu strain and scientists can't say for sure what it would take to turn this new strain into a global killer.

It's a sobering reminder of how mysterious virus evolution remains. Over the past century a number of viruses have made the leap from animal host to humans including SARS and HIV and scientists worry that the next great plague may be a virus that we don't even know about yet.

Paul Turner is learning how new viruses emerge by watching them evolve in his lab. Fortunately the viruses he studies don't make you sick. Instead they attack E-coli and other single celled hosts. But these viruses are teaching Turner and his colleagues about some of the fundamental rules that govern how viruses evolve to attack new hosts. Turner hopes that what he and his colleagues learn about those rules may help future generations of scientists fight against the next generation of viruses that can make us sick.

Wednesday, 04 November 2009 16:30

MTS38 - Jonathan Eisen - An Embarrassment of Genomes

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Jonathan Eisen is a professor at the University of California, Davis Genome Center. Over the course of his career, he has pioneered new ways of sequencing microbial genomes and analyzing them.

I talked to Eisen about some of the weirdest creatures he's studied, such as bacteria that only live on the bellies of worms at the bottom of the ocean, and how we may be able to exploit their genomes for our own benefit. We also discussed the new movement for open access to scientific literature, a subject that's a particular passion of Eisen, who is academic editor in chief at the open-access journal PLOS Biology.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Carl Zimmer's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download: MTS38 (.mp3 | 36 megs | 53 min.)

Friday, 23 October 2009 13:05

MTS37 - Hazel Barton - Cave Dwellers

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Hazel Barton is the Ashland Professor of Integrative Science at Northern Kentucky. She explores some of the world's most remote caves to study the remarkable diversity of microbes that thrive in their dark recesses. I spoke to Barton about how she first became captivated by these bizarre organisms, what it's like to do delicate microbiology when you're hip-deep in mud, and why she wants to explore caves on Mars in search of Martians.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Carl Zimmer's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:  MTS37 (.mp3 | 22 megs | 24 min.)

Friday, 09 October 2009 11:15

MTS36 - Dennis Bray - Living Computers

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Dennis Bray is an active professor emeritus in both the Department of Physiology and Department of Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge. He studies the behavior of microbes--how they "decide" where to swim, when to divide, and how best to manage the millions of chemical reactions taking place inside their membranes. For Bray, microbes are tiny, living computers, with genes and proteins serving the roles of microprocessors.

In this interview, I talked with Bray about his provocative new book, Wetware: A Living Computer Inside Every Cell.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Carl Zimmer's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:  MTS36 (.mp3 | 27 megs | 37:29)

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Pratik Shah is a graduate student in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, and he’s a 2009 recipient of ASM’s Raymond W. Sarber award, granted to recognize students for research excellence and potential.

His research focuses on polyamines and polyamine biosynthesis and transport systems in Streptococcus pneumoniae.  He’s studying polyamines with the goal of finding potential targets for pneumococcal vaccines and prophylactic interventions against pneumococcal disease.

In this interview, I talked with Pratik about why polyamines may hold the key for new ways to combat pathogens, his plans for the future, and about advice he would give to young people considering grad school.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:  MTS34

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Abigail Salyers is a Professor of Microbiology and the G. William Arends Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her research focuses on the ecology of microorganisms in the human body and the comings and goings of antibiotic resistance genes, particularly genes in Bacteroides species.  Dr. Salyers is ASM’s 2009 Graduate Microbiology Teaching Awardee.  If you’ve ever tried teaching or mentoring, you know it’s not always easy, but for an eminent scientist, teaching at the undergraduate or graduate level must be incredibly difficult.  After all, once you reach a certain level of knowledge in any field, it can be hard to relate your knowledge to people who know relatively little about it.  Dr. Salyers has tackled 100-level biology courses with as many as 300 students, taught one-on-one at the lab bench, and been an instructor at an intensive summer course in microbial diversity, all while rising to the top of her field in research. 

In this interview, I talked with Dr. Salyers about the most influential teacher in her own life (you might be surprised to learn who that is), about whether antibiotic resistance is getting the kind of play it deserves, and about why the baboon vagina is an interesting study system.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download: MTS33

Arthur Guruswamy is a clinical microbiologist in Virginia’s Department of General Services Division of Consolidated Laboratory Services and the winner of ASM's Scherago-Rubin Award in recognition of an outstanding, bench-level clinical microbiologist.  His particular interest lies in mycobacterial and fungal diseases, including tuberculosis.

In his work, Mr. Guruswamy places a lot of emphasis on helping others.  A while back, he traveled to his native Sri Lanka to train clinic staff in the use of a rapid, low tech method for identifying cases of tuberculosis.  Using this method has probably saved many lives, since staff Mr. Guruswamy trained can now treat their patients quickly and avoid the three to four week wait for culture results. 

Mr. Guruswamy is also involved in ASM’s Minority Mentoring Program so he can offer younger scientists the kind of assistance he says he got from other ASM members back at the beginning of his own career, when he arrive in the United States with less than $50 in his pocket. 

In this interview, I asked Mr. Guruswamy about his work at the state lab in Virginia, about tuberculosis in this country, and about why he saw more unusual clinical cases during his time working at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota than he has during any other phase of his career.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:   MTS32

Wednesday, 15 July 2009 11:42

MTS31 - Frances Arnold - Engineering Microbes

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Dr. Frances Arnold is a professor of Chemical Engineering and Biochemistry at the California Institute of Technology (most of us know it as Caltech).  Dr. Arnold’s research focuses on evolutionary design of biological systems, an approach she is currently applying to engineer cellulases and cellulolytic enzymes for manufacturing biofuels.

This country’s energy security can look pretty bleak when you think about it: the need to address global warming, strife in oil-rich nations, and depletion of fossil fuels combine to paint an uncertain future, and although ethanol has a lot of friends in Iowa and D.C., ethanol isn’t going to end our energy woes.  In the future, our energy supply will probably be cobbled together from a number of different fuels and sources.

Dr. Arnold is interested in engineering microbes that can grant us a biofuel that packs more of a caloric punch than ethanol.  She likes isobutanol, which can be converted into a fuel that’s more like the hydrocarbons we currently put into our fuel tanks.  To develop proteins that make the comounds she wants the way she wants, Arnold and her team take a gene that needs tweaking to do the job, introduce directed mutations into it, and select the mutant proteins that do the job best.  

In this interview, I talked with Dr. Arnold about how she got into alternative energy during the Carter administration (and got out again during the Reagan administration), what she sees in the P450 enzyme, and how she explains her work to people outside her field.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:   MTS31

Stanley Plotkin is Professor Emeritus at the Wistar Institute and the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.  A renowned vaccinologist, Dr. Plotkin is, perhaps, best known for developing a highly successful vaccine for rubella back in 1968.  We are still using the same vaccine 40 years later.  Dr. Plotkin has been honored with the inaugural Maurice Hilleman / Merck Award for his lifetime of dedication to vaccinology. 

For most people, rubella amounts to a bad rash and a crummy week, but for a fetus, the risks from infection are extremely serious.  The rubella virus inhibits tissue growth in infected fetuses, often resulting in profound birth defects collectively referred to as congenital rubella syndrome. 

Dr. Plotkin developed the rubella vaccine in the wake of a rubella pandemic in 1964, during which he estimates that about 1 in 100 women in his home city of Philadelphia came down with rubella.  Nationwide, thousands of babies were born with congenital rubella syndrome in the wake of the outbreak.  Thanks to the vaccine developed by Dr. Plotkin, rubella has essentially been eradicated in the U.S. and most other developed countries.  In many parts of the developing world, efforts are underway to piggy back the rubella vaccine with the measles vaccine to eradicate both of these diseases everywhere else. 

In this interview, I talked with Dr. Plotkin about the backlash against vaccines for their perceived safety risks, how he would change vaccine policy, and about the rewards of a career in vaccine development.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:   MTS30

Christine Biron is the chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at Brown University in Providence, and she focuses her research program on the mechanisms of the innate immune system – the body’s system of non-specific munitions for fighting off pathogens.  Dr. Biron is also a newly elected fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

When a pathogen gets on or in your body, your innate immune system is on the front lines, working against the pathogen is a non-specific manner.  In research, the innate immune system got short shrift for a long time, and only in the last 10 or 20 years has the field picked up momentum.  Dr. Biron says back when she was in graduate school “the innate immune system wasn’t thought to be very cool”, but she says the field is fast-moving today, in part because of some major discoveries involving Type-1 interferons, natural killer cells, and an increased appreciation of a wider range of antigen processing cells that link the innate and adaptive immune responses.

In this interview, I talked with Dr. Biron about our increasing awareness of the innate immune system, why it’s important to bring microbiologists and immunologists together under one big tent, and why it’s best that a battle between a virus and a host ends not in victory for one and defeat for the other, but in détente.

To listen, click the play button below. You can subscribe for free to Dr. Merry Buckley's Meet the Scientist podcast via iTunes, through the RSS feed with a podcast aggregator or feed reader, or by email alert.

Direct Download:   MTS29

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