Dr. Terje Dokland, professor of microbiology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, presents the keynote lecture for the American Society of Microbiology South Central Branch meeting.
Dr. Terje Dokland, professor of microbiology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham, presents the keynote lecture for the American Society of Microbiology South Central Branch meeting.
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Microbiology meeting embraces more disciplines, young scientists

Published on Thursday, November 8, 2018

By: Karen Bascom

The American Society for Microbiology South Central Branch held their annual meeting Nov. 2-3 at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The Department of Microbiology and Immunology hosted about 180 attendees from universities and research institutions across Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana in the Medical Education Building to discuss the latest advances in their work and connect with other regional scientists.

Dr. Larry McDaniel, professor and chair of microbiology and immunology, said it was the first time UMMC has hosted the meeting since 2002.

Larry McDaniel

“We’ve had a desire to bring the meeting back to the UMMC, and this year we were able to showcase both our department and the new School of Medicine building,” which opened last year, McDaniel said. “Having this facility on campus made hosting this meeting a possibility.”

The conference featured poster presentations, a scientific career panel and invited speakers in the areas of bacteriology, virology, pathogenesis, immunology, and applied microbiology. There were also several featured speakers, including national ASM CEO Dr. Stefano Bertuzzi and keynote speaker Dr. Terje Dokland of the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

“There’s a changing dynamic in microbiology in terms of what we do and how we do it,” McDaniel said. This was highlighted in Bertuzzi’s Saturday talk, where he advocated for shift in the field of microbiology towards broader “microbial sciences,” which can include physicists, engineers, clinical scientists and others.

“[Bertuzzi] discussed how ASM supports more than just microbiology research, because microbial sciences research is really an interdisciplinary collaborative effort,” said Dr. Justine Dees, a postdoctoral fellow in microbiology and immunology at UMMC. “I really enjoyed his talk because he was charismatic and clearly excited about microbial science.”

Dr. Stefano Bertuzzi, left, CEO of the American Society for Microbiology, talks with UMMC's Dr. Stephen Stray, associate professor of microbiology.

Many of the presenters during the poster and oral sessions were undergraduate and graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows. Dees said that smaller, regional conferences like the ASM branch meeting are “heavily focused” on scientists-in-training.

While the presenters at larger national and international conferences tend to be faculty, “trainees have more opportunities to share their research at these smaller meetings,” she said. “It helps them to sharpen their oral communication skills and practice presenting their work in front of an audience.”

In addition, several trainees, Dees included, served as chairs for meeting sessions, a responsibility typically given to faculty at larger conferences.

Kayla Clark, a graduate student at the University of Mississippi, explains her research project to Dr. Karl Indest and Dr. Cari Jung of the Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg.

The ASM branch meeting also recognizes an outstanding junior faculty member from the region through the Charles C. Randall lectureship, named for the former chair of microbiology at UMMC.  Dr. Jason Bodily, an assistant professor at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-Shreveport, delivered the 2018 lecture.

The meeting was also a networking opportunity. Microbial scientists at each level of training had a chance to connect with potential mentors. Likewise, faculty members were able to meet and begin discussions that could lead to new research projects.

“We are able gather and talk with other people in our region and look for opportunities to build collaborations,” McDaniel said.

Both McDaniel and Dees say they have received positive feedback from attendees.

“It was the efforts of everybody pitching in that helped make this meeting a success,” McDaniel said, including the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, ASM, the Schools of Medicine, Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences and Office of Research at UMMC, and several outside vendors.

The University of Mississippi in Oxford will host the 2019 South Central Branch meeting.

Speaking at the scientific career panel are Dr. Justin Thornton of Mississippi State University and Dr. Bianca Garner of Tougaloo College.