World AIDS DayMore than 130 investigators, students and staff interested in HIV, global health and infectious diseases research gathered at UAB on December 11, 2014, to celebrate World AIDS Day. CFAR Director Michael Saag presented the State of the CFAR, and a Research Poster Competition rounded out the event. Four of the five of the monetary awards for project funding went to teams directed by microbiology department faculty.

FIRST PLACE ($4000 funding + $250 prize)
A novel approach to generate HIV-1 broadly neutralizing antibodies
Team: Jan Novak, Zina Moldoveanu, Hui Hu, Matthew Renfro, Jialan Geng, Hairong Wei, Bi Shi, Qing Wei, Milan Raska, Audra Laube, Bara Knoppova

SECOND PLACE ($2000 funding + $125 prize)
Novel copper-coordinating small molecule inhibitors against methicillin resistant stphylococcus aureus
Team: Suzanne Michalek, Olaf Kutsch, Frank Wolschendorf, Santosh Shah, Alex Dalecki, Kaitlyn Schaaf

PEOPLE'S CHOICE ($1000 funding + $75 prize)
Engineer the CRISPR/Cas9 system to clear pathogenic DNA virus infections in AIDS patients
Team: George Luo, Mengxi Jiang, Joshua Justice

*SPECIAL GLOBAL HEALTH AWARD ($4000 funding + $250 prize)
Isolation of human antibodies for the treatment of fungal infections
Team: John Kearney, Rodney Glenn King, Emily Stefanov

Justement 2013In a November 18, 2014, article in GEN (Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News), Susanna F. Greer, Ph.D., says microbiology professor Louis Justement, Ph.D., changed her life.

As an undergraduate chemistry major in the 1990s, Greer spent a summer doing biomedical research in Justement’s lab at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. This initial encounter led Greer to choose a career in research. She is currently associate professor of biology at Georgia State University, specializing in transcriptional and epigenetic regulation of immune response and cancer immunology.

Justement, who chairs the Training and Career Opportunities Subcommittee of the Federation for American Societies for Experimental Biology, continues to change the lives of students here at UAB.

Read Susanna Greer’s thoughts about mentoring in “Making Mentoring Meaningful.”
Working Together KlugThe UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive facility, is known as a leader in bringing scientific discoveries from laboratories to patients. It is home to more than 350 scientists and physician-scientists—many who are in the UAB Department of Microbiology. These scientists are focusing their research on the basic mechanisms of cancer pathogenesis.

An October 2014 US Airways article, “UAB: A Center for Healing,” features the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and is illustrated with a photograph of UAB Microbiology Department professor Christopher Klug, Ph.D.
Fran Lund-14The lab of Frances Lund, Ph.D., chair of the UAB Department of Microbiology, is looking at a cell-fate step in B cells after they have proliferated. She wants to understand the switch from rapid cell division to a cell that starts to manufacture antibody molecules. The cytokine interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) has been implicated in that cell-fate decision, which leads to a fork in the road — most of the B cells make a lot of antibody and then die, but others become long-lived antibody-secreting cells that can produce protective antibodies for decades.

ZajacThe lab of Allan Zajac, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology at UAB, is looking at CD8 T cells, which can develop into the classic “killer” T cells that can destroy virus-infected cells. A cell-surface adhesion molecule called ICAM seems to direct the type of T cell produced after cell-to-cell interactions — some of the CD8 T cells become killer T cells, and others become long-lived memory T cells. Zajac believes that ICAM limits the amount of IL-2 experienced by some clustered T cells, and this helps produce memory cells rather than killer cells. Zajac has two versions of lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus that differ by only two nucleotides — one causes an acute infection in mice that is quelled in 10 days, while the other, faster-replicating virus gets out of control and exhausts the immune system, and the mice take months to recover.

Click here for the rest of the story -- “$10 million UAB grant is probing control of viral infections

2014 Retreat Group Photo
by Peter Burrows, Ph.D.

October 17-19, 2014, microbiology department faculty, and special guests gathered at Alabama’s beautiful Joe Wheeler State Park for the annual microbiology department retreat. This has always been one of our favorite retreat venues because of its convenient (about 2 hours from Birmingham) and beautiful location near Rogersville, Alabama, on Wheeler Lake, a 60 mile long body of water created by Wheeler Dam along the Tennessee River. This year’s retreat was a wonderful opportunity for students, faculty and postdocs to focus on science and to establish new collaborations away from the distractions of everyday life. The weather this year could not have been better. An added treat was the unveiling of the new microbiology department T-shirt during the retreat registration. Images on the shirt were provided by microbiology graduate student Shane Kelly (Bedwell lab) and depicted squamous epithelial cells isolated from the buccal mucosa of the cheek. Shane’s artwork was awarded Judge’s Choice in the 2014 UAB School of Medicine Art Show.

2014 Retreat postersThe retreat began on Friday afternoon with scientific talks by students and postdocs. Roughly organized into themes, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, gene expression, host defense and immunity, and virology, the talks were varied and interesting and were followed by lively question and answer sessions. Friday evening was reserved for a poster session with 26 trainees presenting their research. Student and postdoc presentations continued on Saturday morning. Faculty judges of the oral and poster presentations uniformly agreed that this was a very difficult assignment due to the overall high quality of both talks and posters.

Before breaking for lunch on Saturday, the department’s own Dr. Peter Prevelige swapped his structural virology hat for that of photographer extraordinaire and took the retreat group photo. After lunch, faculty and trainees joined in a roundtable discussion about advanced courses in the department of microbiology. Many positive suggestions for possible courses, including an advanced virology course and a new course on the microbiome, came from the discussion.

The highlight of the retreat was the Saturday evening talk by keynote speaker Dr. William R. Jacobs, Jr. from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, located in the Bronx borough of New York City. Bill is an2014 retreat keynote speaker dinner alumnus of the UAB Department of Microbiology, having received his Ph.D. in molecular cell biology in 1985. He studied Mycobacterium leprae, the causative agent of leprosy, while in the laboratories of Drs. Roy Curtiss III and Josephine Clark-Curtiss. After receiving his Ph.D., he accepted a postdoctoral position in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine with Dr. Barry Bloom, studying Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Bill established his own laboratory at Einstein in 1987. His contributions to this field have been enormous and well recognized. He has been a Howard Hughes Investigator since 1990, and in 2013 he was elected to the US National Academy of Science. In his talk at the retreat, Bill delighted the audience with highlights of his scientific discoveries, including the “Bronx bomber,” a highly virulent bacteriophage, lytic for certain mycobacteria, which he isolated from soil in his backyard in the Bronx and which has been instrumental for genetic analysis of these organisms. His talk was insightful, entertaining and even had an audience participation component. It was in the true sense of an overused word, awesome.

The retreat concluded on Sunday morning with three interesting talks by departmental faculty members, Drs. Dave Bedwell, Hui Hu (a new recruit to the department) and Jan Novak. This was followed by the awards ceremony with closing remarks by department chair, Dr. Fran Lund, during which she announced that our department had received the UAB Dean’s Award for Excellence.



Graduate Students
1st - Kathryn Doornbos
2nd - Lindsey Padgett

New Investigators
1st - Shannon Ramano
2nd - Alex Dalecki

Postdoctoral Fellow
1st - Shannon Kahan
2nd - Jianlin Geng

Graduate Students
1st - Yuan Tian
1st - Xiaojiao Xue
2nd - Gwendolyn Gunn

New Investigators
1st - Brady Spencer
2nd - Katherine Taylor

Postdoctoral Fellow
1st - Avi Mitra
2nd - Kanupriya Gupta

calix juanWhile doing graduate research in the UAB microbiology department, alumnus Juan Calix, M.D., Ph.D., wrote an F31 grant application that was not only funded, but also selected by NIH as a model application. According to NIH Program Specialist Jen Sacchetti, Calix’s excellent F31 application is posted on the NIH public website as a sample for the extramural researcher community.

“His application mentions the research strength at UAB, and various programs including UAB MSTP,” says Moon Nahm, M.D., Calix’s mentor.

Calix received several awards while studying at UAB, including the 2012 Samuel B. Barker Award for Excellence in Graduate Studies, the most prestigious annual award given to students from the Graduate School.

In 2014, after receiving his MD/PHD at UAB, Calix began a medical internship at Washington University in St. Louis. He is in a special faculty training program where he can do research in the late phase of his residency training and can be an infectious diseases faculty member there.

"I believe that he will soon be a leader in infectious diseases and microbiology,” says Nahm. “Clearly, Juan is a model student for UAB.”

The model F31 application is on the NIH/NIAID website --