Microbiology & Molecular Genetics Spring 2016 Newsletter : Page 1

Microbiology & Molecular Genetics From the Department Chair... DEPARTMENT OF SPRING 2016 College of Natural Science | Newsletter for Alumni and Friends S pring is springing to life on the beau-tiful Michigan State campus. Mad-ness came early in March with the first-round exit by our Spartan basketball team from the NCAA Tournament, but we have memories of their great season and winning the Big Ten Tournament. That came on the heels of an outstanding fall that saw our football team defy all odds to make it to the Final Four. Spartan excellence and pride are not confined to the field or gym, as we are fortunate in MMG to share those traits in our labs and classrooms as well. What an honor it has been for me to join a department with the strong reputation of MMG. I look forward to working with our faculty, students and alumni to continue burnishing that reputation. Perhaps the most fruitful, exciting targets for identifying new scholarship—and new scholars to carry it out—are where these different areas intersect. For example, how about the evolution of pathogens, particularly in the important area of antimicrobial resistance, or how pathogen exposure has shaped human evolution? And how do microbes influence the development or progression of cancer? What about how the immune system is guided by early developmental interactions with microbes? Growth of the department will focus at these intersections, where new knowledge with the greatest impact will be discovered. A great attraction to the field of academic research is the opportunity to work with graduate students and train the next generation of scientists. During winter and early spring, research-intensive institutions such as ours across the country spend considerable time interviewing and recruiting potential trainees for their graduate programs. It is a time-consuming but important activity, as success in training graduate students is an excellent indicator of a healthy research environment. Much of this training takes place in the classrooms and laboratories. But we also come together as a community to guide them at times, through thesis committees, as well as in our newly developed weekly MMG Work-in-Progress (WiPS) seminar series. most excite incoming graduate students are our younger faculty members. In this issue of our MMG newsletter, we feature creative and important research and training of some of our younger researchers. Ashley Shade studies complex microbial communities and the factors that contribute to their resilience and stability. She also leads EDAMAME, a popular summer workshop for microbial metagenomics data analysis held at the Kellogg Biological Station. Read more about her work on page 4. Another young investigator, Neal Hammer, studies how the important human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus maintains its ability to survive in the host, even as it acquires key mutations that confer antibiotic resistance and impose a fitness cost as well (see page 7). We also learn about challenges and opportunities in the dual-degree training of one of our students, Jacob Baker, studying for both his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, and we get a peek at a remarkable new enzyme mechanism discovered by one of our senior faculty members, and former interim department chair, Bob Hausinger (both on page 6). Finally, I invite you to read about extraordinary efforts being made on behalf of our undergraduate students by our academic advisor Jeannine Scott (page 8). Happy Spring and happy reading! “Spartan excellence and pride are not confined to the field or gym, as we are fortunate in MMG to share those traits in our labs and classrooms ...” The WiPS program, directed by our graduate studies chair Donna Koslowsky, enables students to present their most recent research to the whole department. Afterwards, faculty members evaluate the students on their presentations to help them see what was effective and where there is room for improvement. This will provide a solid foundation for our students in an important area of professional behavior: the ability to communicate one’s science to a broad audience. Just as scientists are attracted to academic research, students are attracted to graduate school for the opportunity to learn from top researchers. Often, the investigators who MMG.NA T SCI.MSU .EDU Victor DiRita, Ph.D. Chair, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics

From The Department Chair...

Victor DiRita

Spring is springing to life on the beautiful Michigan State campus. Madness came early in March with the first-round exit by our Spartan basketball team from the NCAA Tournament, but we have memories of their great season and winning the Big Ten Tournament. That came on the heels of an outstanding fall that saw our football team defy all odds to make it to the Final Four. Spartan excellence and pride are not confined to the field or gym, as we are fortunate in MMG to share those traits in our labs and classrooms as well.

What an honor it has been for me to join a department with the strong reputation of MMG. I look forward to working with our faculty, students and alumni to continue burnishing that reputation.

Perhaps the most fruitful, exciting targets for identifying new scholarship—and new scholars to carry it out—are where these different areas intersect. For example, how about the evolution of pathogens, particularly in the important area of antimicrobial resistance, or how pathogen exposure has shaped human evolution? And how do microbes influence the development or progression of cancer? What about how the immune system is guided by early developmental interactions with microbes? Growth of the department will focus at these intersections, where new knowledge with the greatest impact will be discovered.

A great attraction to the field of academic research is the opportunity to work with graduate students and train the next generation of scientists. During winter and early spring, research-intensive institutions such as ours across the country spend considerable time interviewing and recruiting potential trainees for their graduate programs. It is a time-consuming but important activity, as success in training graduate students is an excellent indicator of a healthy research environment. Much of this training takes place in the classrooms and laboratories. But we also come together as a community to guide them at times, through thesis committees, as well as in our newly developed weekly MMG Work-in- Progress (WiPS) seminar series.


“Spartan excellence and pride are not confined to the field or gym, as we are fortunate in MMG to share those traits in our labs and
classrooms ...”


The WiPS program, directed by our graduate studies chair Donna Koslowsky, enables students to present their most recent research to the whole department. Afterwards, faculty members evaluate the students on their presentations to help them see what was effective and where there is room for improvement. This will provide a solid foundation for our students in an important area of professional behavior: the ability to communicate one’s science to a broad audience.

Just as scientists are attracted to academic research, students are attracted to graduate school for the opportunity to learn from top researchers. Often, the investigators who most excite incoming graduate students are our younger faculty members.

In this issue of our MMG newsletter, we feature creative and important research and training of some of our younger researchers. Ashley Shade studies complex microbial communities and the factors that contribute to their resilience and stability. She also leads EDAMAME, a popular summer workshop for microbial metagenomics data analysis held at the Kellogg Biological Station. Read more about her work on page 4. Another young investigator, Neal Hammer, studies how the important human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus maintains its ability to survive in the host, even as it acquires key mutations that confer antibiotic resistance and impose a fitness cost as well (see page 7) . We also learn about challenges and opportunities in the dual-degree training of one of our students, Jacob Baker, studying for both his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, and we get a peek at a remarkable new enzyme mechanism discovered by one of our senior faculty members, and former interim department chair, Bob Hausinger (both on page 6).

Finally, I invite you to read about extraordinary efforts being made on behalf of our undergraduate students by our academic advisor Jeannine Scott (page 8).

Happy Spring and happy reading!




Victor DiRita, Ph.D. Chair, Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics

Read the full article at http://www.bluetoad.com/article/From+The+Department+Chair.../2460193/298651/article.html.

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