The concept of the multiverse simultaneously refers to the coexistence of numerous separate worlds or realities. In academic circles, this has been the conventional approach to research. However, the Microbial Systems Initiative (MSI) aims to dismantle these divisions by encouraging interconnectedness and collaboration. MSI strives to achieve this by promoting diverse faculty and trainee recruitment and retention, as well as offering opportunities for research, education, and professional development.
The 2023 Microbial Multiverse Symposium will highlight MSI’s work by showcasing the breadth of microbial systems research on campus and how this work is driven through collaboration. The symposium will open on Thursday, September 14 with a public keynote by Margaret McFall-Ngai, Director of Biosphere Sciences and Engineering at Carnegie Science, at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center. McFall-Ngai, a National Academy member, has been an international leader in microbiome science and the study of symbiotic relationships between microbes and hosts for many years. The rest of the symposium, hosted at the Beckman Institute, brings together microbial systems researchers from across the nation and calls attention to the work of Illinois researchers. The symposium converges the diverse realms of microbial science research into sessions such as microbes' impact on the environment, nutrition, and the brain, and a panel discussion that illuminates the role of microbes in society. Register to attend the Microbial Multiverse Symposium by September 5.
Find out more about the Microbial Multiverse Symposium and see what the planning chairs, Paola Mera and Christopher Gaulke, have to say about the event:
What has been the most interesting or fulfilling aspect of organizing the research symposium?
Mera: Working with the MSI team has been very exciting! I have learned so much from this opportunity. The team at MSI embodies the collaborative and creative nature that our Microbial Multiverse Symposium will accomplish at the campus level.
Gaulke: One of the most fulfilling parts of helping to organize this research symposium was getting to learn more about the exciting microbial systems research that is going on at our university. As a new faculty I wasn't aware of the breadth of expertise that we have at UIUC and this experience has helped me get more plugged into the microbial research ecosystem at UIUC.
What are you most excited about for the Microbial Multiverse Symposium?
Mera: I am excited about re-connecting and making new connections with microbiologists around campus. The titles of the talks scheduled for our symposium demonstrate the broad scope and diversity of microbial topics that are being studied at UIUC. The breadth and depth of these talks is similar to an international microbiology conference. I cannot wait.
Gaulke: I am really excited about the breadth of microbial systems work that this symposium is going to cover. Too often we go to highly specialized conferences that really only cover one or two small aspects of the broader field. By bringing together different areas of microbial systems research I think we are really going to see some interesting and important cross pollination of ideas. Hopefully, this will help make new connections between groups, stimulate interesting discussions, and serve as the nucleation point for new collaborations.
How do you think this symposium will advance microbial systems research on campus?
Mera: Our campus, at times, can feel too big to meet up and share our ideas with other microbiologists. This symposium will give us the perfect opportunity to get together and strengthen our connections so that we build a supportive and creative community of microbiologists. The bonds we build during this symposium will bring us closer, and I am confident that many new and exciting collaborations will come out it. Hopefully, UIUC will no longer feel so big.
Gaulke: I think that one of the things that this symposium is designed to do is to bring together the diverse expertise and interests from inside and outside UIUC and in so doing serve as the spark that ignites new cutting-edge collaborative research projects.
Can you share any intriguing highlights or sneak peeks of the keynote speeches or presentations that attendees can look forward to?
Mera: I am looking forward to the whole meeting!
Gaulke: The microbes in society panel is going to be really interesting. These types of panel discussions are some of the best exchanges of ideas at conferences I have been to in the past. In our symposium we have been lucky to recruit a truly multidisciplinary group from fields that are not frequently represented at microbial systems conferences. I am looking forward to the conversation generated by this group.
About the planning chairs:
Paola Mera is a researcher passionate about unraveling the intricate molecular orchestration driving bacterial growth. The Mera Lab, employs a multidisciplinary approach, merging bacterial genetics, advanced imaging, and biochemistry to dissect the communication networks governing essential cell cycle processes such as chromosome replication, segregation, and cytokinesis in organisms like Caulobacter crescentus and Helicobacter pylori. Her work not only sheds light on fundamental bacterial biology but also holds promise for the development of antibiotics targeting these coordination pathways. Her research also explores how bacteria adapt to varying environments, investigating how factors like nutrient availability and stressors influence the cell cycle. Mera is an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology.
Christopher Gaulke deciphers the intricate molecular mechanisms governing host-microbe interactions. The Gaulke lab employs a multidisciplinary approach that spans clinical and basic sciences, his research integrates high-throughput screens, advanced molecular techniques, and statistical modeling to pinpoint environmental factors capable of perturbing the microbiome's taxonomic, genetic, and metabolic makeup. By merging these findings with measures of host physiology and immunity, his team identifies critical links between microbiome activity and host well-being. The goal is to utilize this comprehensive understanding to uncover exposure biomarkers, elucidate microbial bioremediation pathways, and engineer microbial communities that counteract the adverse impacts of exposures, ultimately fostering health and resilience. Gaulke is an assistant professor in the Department of Pathobiology.