Date(s) - 08/17/2012
8:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Friday Evening Lecture Series – The Ruth Sager Lecture – “How Bacteria Talk To Each Other”
Bonnie L. Bassler, Princeton University; Howard Hughes Medical Institute
August 17, 2012, 8:00 PM, Lillie Auditorium
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Bacteria communicate with one another using small chemical molecules that they release into the environment. These molecules travel from cell to cell and the bacteria have receptors on their surfaces that allow them to detect and respond to the build up of the molecules. This process of cell-to-cell communication in bacteria is called “Quorum Sensing” and it allows bacteria to synchronize behavior on a population-wide scale. Bacterial behaviors controlled by quorum sensing are usually ones that are unproductive when undertaken by an individual bacterium acting alone but become effective when undertaken in unison by the group. For example, quorum sensing controls virulence, sporulation, and the exchange of DNA. Thus, quorum sensing is a mechanism that allows bacteria to function as multi-cellular organisms. Cell-to-cell communication in bacteria was likely one of the first steps in the evolution of higher organisms. Current biomedical research is focused on the development of novel anti-bacterial therapies aimed at interfering with quorum sensing. Such therapies could be used to control bacterial pathogenicity.
Dr. Bonnie Bassler is the Squibb Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. The research in her laboratory focuses on the molecular mechanisms that bacteria use for intercellular communication—a process called quorum sensing. Dr. Bassler’s research is paving the way to the development of novel therapies for combating bacteria by disrupting quorum-sensing-mediated communication. At Princeton, Dr. Bassler teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses and is a passionate advocate for diversity in the sciences. She is actively involved in and committed to educating lay people in science. Dr. Bassler received a B.S. from the University of California at Davis, and a Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University. She performed postdoctoral work in genetics at the Agouron Institute before joining the Princeton faculty in 1994. Dr. Bassler is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2002. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and is currently chair of its Board of Governors. Dr. Bassler is the recipient of numerous awards including the 2012 UNESCO-L’Oreal Woman in Science for North America, the National Academies’ Richard Lounsbery Award (2011), Wiley Prize in Biomedical Sciences (2009), and the Presidents’ Distinguished Teaching Award, Princeton University (2008). In 2011, President Barak Obama nominated Dr. Bassler for membership on the National Science Board, which oversees the NSF and prioritizes the nation’s research and educational priorities in science, math, and engineering. Dr. Bassler is currently an editor of mBio, chief editor of Annual Reviews of Genetics, and an associate editor for Cell, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Journal of Bacteriology, and other journals.
Professor Dyann Wirth will introduce Dr. Bassler. Professor Wirth, an MBL Trustee, is the Richard Pearson Strong Professor of Infectious Diseases, chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, and director of the Harvard Malaria Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health. She is also senior associate member and co-director of the Infectious Disease Initiative at the Broad Institute and co-chair of the Global Infectious Diseases Program at the Harvard Global Health Institute. Professor Wirth’s malaria research has provided completely new insight into how the malaria parasite has evolved, specifically in the areas of population biology, drug resistance, and antigenicity. The Wirth laboratory collaborates with scientists and clinicians from around the globe to create a unique malaria research and training network. Using this approach, the Wirth group is working to understand the mechanisms of drug resistance in Plasmodium falciparum, the major human malaria parasite. Leveraging the genomic tools of the human genomic project, the group has applied state of the art technologies and novel approaches to better understand the fundamental biology of the malaria parasite and mechanisms of drug resistance. The long-term goal of this work is to understand basic molecular mechanisms in protozoan parasite to discover and apply preventive and therapeutic interventions against infection.
About the Sager Lecture
Dr. Ruth Sager was chief of cancer genetics at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and a professor at Harvard Medical School where she was an acknowledged expert on suppressor genes and their relation to breast cancer. Dr. Sager was the author of more than 200 scientific papers on cancer genetics and the existence of DNA outside of cell nuclei, her first field of research, which she pursued through the study of algae. In 1988, Dr. Sager received the Gilbert Morgan Smith Medal in phycology. This medal is awarded every three years in recognition of excellence in published research on marine or freshwater algae. After switching her field of study to breast cancer in 1972, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship and studied the disease for a year at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratory in London, England. Dr. Sager graduated from the University of Chicago. She earned a master’s degree at Rutgers University and a doctorate at Columbia University. Dr. Sager was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1977. She was a professor at Hunter College until 1975, when she joined Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Her cancer research involved the identification of more than 40 possible tumor suppressor genes with implications in the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. She also proved “by persistent counterexample, where originality leads,” according to the University of Chicago Magazine article, published in 1994 when she was named alumna of the year. Dr. Sager died of cancer in March, 1997, at the age of 79.