2024 Season

Opposing roles of commensal bacterial mucus degradation and metabolite production in inflammatory bowel disease

Seminar #1: January 22, 2024

Eric Martens, PhD

University of Michigan
Headshot of Dr. Eric Martens

Dr. Martens obtained his B.A. (1997) from Washington University in St. Louis and his Ph.D. (2005) from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He began investigating the mechanisms through which human gut bacteria digest diet and host derived polysaccharaides during his postdoctoral work in the lab of Jeffrey Gordon at Washington University School of Medicine. He continued to pursue this work at the University of Michigan Medical School in 2009 with a focus on members of the Bacteroidetes, one of only a few numerically dominant phyla of human gut bacteria, which are particularly adept at degrading diet and host-derived polysaccharides. Current projects in the Martens laboratory are aimed at understanding the role of commensal gut bacteria in triggering inflammatory bowel disease, the dependency of inflammatory outcomes on th eamount and variety of dietary fiber, and the mechanisms through which bacterial mucin-degrading enzymes digest the mucosal barrier and promote disease. Additional projects in his lab are focused on lateral gene transfer between bacteria in environments like the ocean and those in the gut, bacteriophage interactions with gut bacteria and the immune system, and cultivation and characterization of the unstudied majority of human gut symbionts. 

Communication and coevolution between forest trees and their symbiotic fungi

Seminar #2: January 29, 2024

Photo of Dr. Rytas Vilgalys

Rytas Vilgalys, PhD

Professor of Biology
Duke University

The Vilgalys lab studies the natural history of fungi, including their genetics, ecology, and evolution. The lab has pioneered many of the molecular-based methods used by other fungal biologists to study fungal diversity. Dr. Vigalys has published over 200 scientific articles with over 28,000 citations. His current research program employs genome sequencing and metagenomics to 1) identify communities of fungi associated with forest trees, including pines, populars, and eucalypts; and 2) investigate molecular functioning of fungal communities with their tree hosts using environmental metagenomics. These studies have broad relevance for understanding the genetics of plant-fungal interactions (symbiosis), microbial ecology of forest ecosystems, and invasive biology of introduced species. 

Microbiomes from Theory to Application

Seminar #3: February 12, 2024

Samodha Fernando, PhD

Professor, Nutritional Chemistry
Department of Animal Science
University of Nebraska

Dr. Fernando obtained his BS from the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka. He subsequently earned his MS in animal science and reproductive physiology and his PhD in animal nutrition and microbial genomics from Oklahoma State University. He completed a postdoc at MIT before joining the faculty at University of Nebraska in 2011.

His research interests are in understanding microbial structure-function relationships to improve human and animal nutrition. To this end, he is interested in 1) understabding the role of the microbial food chain in methanogenesis and other metabolic disorders in ruminants; 2) developing new animals models to study structure-function relationships in the human microbiome; 3) understanding the influence of host-genotype, gut microbiota and environment toward pathogen colonization in humans and livestock; and 4) uncovering the gut virome in ruminants and non-ruminants. 

Are common mycorrhizal networks beneficial for trees in forests? Separating evidence from fantasy in the wood-wide web

Seminar #4: February 26, 2024

Jason Hoeksema, PhD

Professor of Biology
The University of Mississippi

Dr. Hoeksema received his PhD in Ecology from the University of California, Davis in 2002. He held positions as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz from 2002-2006, and as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center at Duke University from 2006-2007, before joining UM in 2007. At UM, he teaches courses in Mycology, Ornithology, Coevolution, Biometry, and Meta-analysis. 

Dr. Hoeksema's research focuses on the ecological, evolutionary, and ecosystem consequences of interactions among species, especially involving plants, mycorrhizal fungi, anmd migratory birds.


Seminar #5: March 18, 2024

Laramy Enders, PhD

Assistant Professor
University of Purdue


Seminar #6: March 25, 2024

Zakee Sabree, PhD

Associate Professor
The Ohio State University


Seminar #7: April 8, 2024

Josie Chandler, PhD

Associate Professor
University of Kansas

Seminar #8: April 22, 2024

Matt Anderson, PhD

Associate Professor
University of Wisconsin

Seminar #9: May 6, 2024

Casey Morrow, PhD

University of Alabama

Past Seminars...

2023 Season

Functional mapping to translate between mouse and human microbiota research

2023 Seminar #9: May 9, 2023


Photo of Dr. Virginia Pedicord

Virginia Pedicord, PhD

Group Leader - Sir Henry Dale Fellow
Cambridge Institue of Therapeutic Immunology & Infectious Disease (CITIID)
University of Cambridge

Dr. Pedicord received her Ph.D. in Immunology and Microbial Pathogenesis from Cornell University under the supervision of Dr. James P. Allison at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. There she studies how CD*+ T cell survival, differentiation, and function in vivo are shaped by activation in the contexts of IL-10 inhibition, immune checkpoint blockade, and manipulation. She completed her postdoctoral training at Rockefeller

University, where she began investigating the role of the gut microbiota in T cell-mediated immunity and intestinal barrier function, before joining the University of Cambridge Department of Medicine and Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology & Infectious Disease in 2018. 

Her research group studies how interactions with gut microbes and microbial metabolites affect resistance to infection, local and systemic T cell responses, and the gut-brain axis of neuronal function. 

Understanding environmental microbiomes for plant and planetary health

2023 Seminar #8: April 25, 2023


Photo of Dr. Gabriele Berg

Dr. Gabriele Berg

Graz University of Technology (TU Graz), Graz, AUSTRIA

Dr. Berg studied biology, ecology, and biotechnology at the universities in Rostock and Greifswald and obtained her Ph.D. in 1995 in microbiology from Rostock University (Germany). In 2005 she became a full professor in environmental biotechnology at Graz University of Technology (Austria), and in 2021 she added a professorship in Potsdam (Germany). 

Dr. Berg's interests are focused on microbiome research and the translation of the results into new biotechnological and microbiome management concepts for health issues. 

From 2018 to 2020, she was listed as one of the most influential researchers worldwide (top 1, Clarivate Analytics) and received numerous awards, e.g., the Knight's Cross for Research Styria (2022).

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Is the microbiome the answer to all of life's little (and big) questions?

2023 Seminar #7: April 11, 2023


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Todd R. Callaway, PhD

Associate Professor
Department of Animal and Dairy Science
University of Georgia

Dr. Callaway is a ruminant microbiologist who received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from the University of Georgia in Animal and Dairy Science. He completed his Ph.D. degree in Microbiology at Cornell University. Dr. Callaway joined the USDA-ARS and served as a research microbiologist in the Food and Feed Safety Research Unit in College Station, Texas. He became National Program Leader for Food Safety for USDA-ARS, with a research portfolio that included On-Farm Food Safety, Antimicrobial Resistance, and Microbiome Exploration. Dr. Callaway has published over 240 refereed journal articles, 25 book chapters, and two books. He received the American Society of Animal Science Early Careers Research Award and the USDA-ARS Early Career Research Awards. His research focuses on the role of the gut microbiota in cattle nutrition and how the complex environment of the cattle gastrointestinal tract can impact food safety and production efficiency. He has led research on improving digestibility and altering end products from microbial fermentations, including impacts on methane, ammonia, VFA, and DMD/NDF digestibility. 

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Liver Abscesses in Feedlot Cattle: A Deep Dive!

2023 Seminar #6: March 28, 2023


Photo of Dr. T.G. Nagaraja

T. G. Nagaraja, BVSc, MVSc, PhD

Kansas State University

Dr. Nagaraja's expertise is in the gut microbiology of cattle, particularly beef cattle. His program, a blend of basic and applied research, has focused primarily on the role of ruminal microbes in the function and dysfunctions of the rumen of cattle and on food-borne pathogens, particularly Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli and Salmonella in cattle. Specifically, the contributions that he and his associates have made are in the following areas: antibiotics, particularly ionophores and ruminal fermentation modifications; etiology and pathogenesis of and vaccine development for liver abscesses; causes and preventions of ruminal acidosis and bloat; ecology of Shiga toxin-producing E. coli and Salmonella in cattle; and antimicrobial resistance and antimicrobial alternatives in cattle production systems.

He has mentored 21 Ph.D., 22 MS, 4 MPH students, several post-docs, and visiting scientists. His research has resulted in 8 patents, 252 peer-reviewed journal articles, 16 review papers, 27 book chapters, and a compendium on rumen health.  

Mechanistic mining of the gut microbiota for metabolic and mental health

2023 Seminar #5: March 14, 2023


Photo of Harriet Schellekens

Harriet Schellekens, PhD

Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience University College Cork, Ireland

Dr. Schellekens is a lecturer at the Department of Anatomy and Neuroscience, a principal investigator with Food for Health Ireland, and a funded investigator at APC Microbiome Ireland at University College Cork - Cork, Ireland.

Her group investigates the impact of diet and nutrition and the gut microbiome on human health and physiology, particularly in the context of obesity and stress-related disorders. She uses mechanistic and translational studies bridging basic and clinical aspects of neuroscience and nutrition to investigate the link between metabolic disease and mental health and the potential amelioration of both via microbiome-targeted approaches. Her lab investigates the bi-directional communication mechanism between brain and gut microbiota, including immune and neuroendocrine pathways, G-Protein Coupled Receptors, and signaling via microbiota-derived metabolites. 

The Earth Microbiome Project - Using standardized Multi-omics to understand microbial taxonomic and functional diversity at scale

2023 Seminar #4: February 28, 2023


Photo of Dr. Justin Shaffer

Justin Shaffer, PhD

University of California at San Diego

Dr. Shaffer is a plant and microbial ecologist with a strong background in mycology. He obtained his B.A. from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2009, and his Ph.D. from the University of Arizona in 2017. He began working as a postdoc with the Knight lab in 2018. 

Dr. Shaffer's research is focused on elucidating how dynamics in microbial communities contribute to emergent ecosystem function or host fitness. He is involved in many projects but is currently the project lead of the Earth Microbiome Project. He is also involved in science education and seeks to improve education in biology by fostering inclusive environments and using active learning methods. 

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Steps Towards Microbiome-assisted Barley Breeding

2023 Seminar #3: February 14, 2023

Headshot of Dr. Ana Badea

Ana Badea, PhD

Research Scientist
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Dr. Badea is a research scientist in barley breeding and genetics at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Brandon Research and Development Centre (BRDC) in Manitoba, Canada. She has been part of AAFC since 2004, beginning as a postdoctoral visiting fellow at Lethbridge, Alberta. Dr. Badea moved to the BRDC in 2012 as a barley breeder for the Six Row and Hullness Barley Breeding Program. Beginning in 2017, she wsa entrusted witht he alrgest AAFC barley breeding program, the Two-Row Barley Breeding Program, which she continues to lead. 

Dr. Badea is on the board of the Prairie Grain Development Committee (PGDC), the Canadian Malting Barley Technical Centre (CMBTC) and Plant Breeders' Rights (PBR) Advisory Committee. She is also an Adjunct Professor with the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences at the University of Manitoba and an Associate Editor for two journals. 

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Taming the First Methanogens from Outside the Euryarchaeota

2023 Seminar #2: January 30, 2023

Headshot of Dr. Roland Hatzenpichler

Roland Hatzenpichler, PhD

Assistant Professor
Montana State University

Dr. Hatzenpichler, a first-generation college student, earned his MS (2006) and PhD (2011) in microbial ecology in the lab of Michael Wagner at the University of Vienna (Austria). He was a postdoc with Victoria Orphan at Caltech from 2011 to 2016 and he has been an Assistant Professor in MSU's Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry since 2016. Dr. Hatzenpichler has raised $5.2M in direct funding for his lab and more than $17M in total funding since 2017. He was an elected member of the Junior Advisory Group of the American Society for Microbiology from 2014 to 2017, and he was named a NASA Early Career Fellow in 2017. He is a member of the Steering Committee of NASA's Network for Life Detection (NFold), the User Executive Committee of the Department of Energy's Joint Genome Institute (JGI), the Factuly Committee for MSU's Molecular BioSciences Program, and the Early Career Faculty Advisory Panel of MSU's Center for Biofilm Engineering. He is an editorial board member of the ISME Journal and Environmental Microbiology. 

Influence of the Maternal Microbiome on Offspring Neurodevelopment and Behavior

2023 Seminar #1: January 17, 2023

Headshot of Dr. Aaron Ericsson

Aaron Ericsson, DVM, PhD

Assistant Professor
Missouri University College of Veterinary Medicine

Dr. Ericsson's lab is focused on the role of host-associated microbiomes in human and animal health. He recieved his DVM in 2006, completed a residency in Comparative Medicine in 2009, and obtained a PhD in Pathobiology in 2013. He serves as Director of the MU Metagenomics Center (MUMC), Project Lead for microbiome research for the NIH U42-funded MU Mutant Mouse Resource and Research Center (MMRRC), and co-investigator on several R01-level awards. His research has investigated the influence of select microbes and microbial communities on susceptibility to colorectal cancer (K01-funded); the influence of maternal and neonatal gut bacteria on the development of the immune and central nervous systems; susceptibility to conditions associated with abnormal neurodevelopment and the development of anxiety-related behavior (R03-funded); and the passage of maternal microbiota to offspring. He has broad expertise in associations between host-associated microbiomes on health and disease in rodent models, experimental manipulation of the microbiome, assessment of microbial compositions and function using metagenomic and metabolomic platforms, and analysis of microbiome-associated data using the most current and appropriate methods.

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