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.
The 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 an 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.
|2014 RESEARCH RETREAT AWARD RECIPIENTS
1st - Kathryn Doornbos
2nd - Lindsey Padgett
1st - Shannon Ramano
2nd - Alex Dalecki
1st - Shannon Kahan
2nd - Jianlin Geng
1st - Yuan Tian
1st - Xiaojiao Xue
2nd - Gwendolyn Gunn
1st - Brady Spencer
2nd - Katherine Taylor
1st - Avi Mitra
2nd - Kanupriya Gupta
“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 -- http://www.niaid.nih.gov/researchfunding/grant/samples/Pages/F31-Calix.aspx
Hu, who comes to UAB from the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, joined the microbiology department in May.
After receiving his doctorate from Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden, in 1998, Hu came to the US and began postdoctoral training at the Trudeau Institute. He then moved to the Center for Cancer Research at MIT, where he was a postdoctoral associate. In 2002, Hu joined CBR Institute for Biomedical Research (IDI) at Harvard Medical School. He was an instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at Harvard’s Children’s Hospital before moving to the Wistar Institute in 2007. He worked for seven years at the Wistar Institute. Hu has received several awards and honors including the ACGT Young Investigator Award.
The faculty retreat is a valuable event that focuses on the two major objectives of the department—scientific research and education. Dr. Louis Justement says that the event “provides a venue for the diverse faculty to share research and ideas regarding ways to improve the department. Basically, the retreat is very valuable because it fosters communication between the faculty and communication is the key to building collaborations and for making the department stronger.”
|What began in the late 1990s with only three UAB labs (Briles, Yother and Hollingshead) participating has become a biannual symposium attended by more than 70 attendees from six southeastern research institutions:
Wake Forest School of Medicine
Mississippi State University
University of Georgia
University of Mississippi Medical Center
Alabama State University
|This two-day symposium offers researchers an opportunity to share the latest developments in the field of pneumococcal research.
Distinguished speaker for the 2014 event was UAB microbiology alumni, William E. Swords, Ph.D. He discussed his research at Wake Forest School of Medicine, which focuses on understanding host-pathogen interactions that determine persistence vs. clearance in the airways.