Importance of microbes the focus of Yale Microbial Sciences Institute retreat

The first gathering of scholars from Yale’s Microbial Sciences Institute (MSI) took place December 5th, bringing together over 70 faculty, postdocs, students, and staff for a day of science and networking at the Greenberg Center in New Haven.

The Institute is dedicated to exploring the vast world of microbes and how they govern processes that control the functions of all living creatures.

Opening the event, Christine Jacobs-Wagner, William H. Fleming, M.D. Professor and the MSI Director, looked back to the earliest days of Yale’s West Campus, now home to the Institute’s seven laboratories.

In planning the then new campus, a strong consensus emerged about the importance of microbes and a need to fill this understudied field. Since its inception in 2010, the Institute has grown to include faculty from various departments across Yale, including Microbial Pathogenesis, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Highlighting a growing need for science to reach the public domain, the keynote address was given by award-winning New York Times columnist and professor adjunct at Yale, Carl Zimmer. Despite challenges of explaining complex research, people were really interested in microbiology, he said. “We just need to look for other ways to get our messages across.”

During a networking lunch and poster session, participants in the event – which was organized by students, faculty and staff of the Institute’s Community Building Committee – took part in a light-hearted “faculty trivia” quiz.

Throughout the day faculty from across the MSI labs presented quick-fire lightning talks featuring the latest science in the field: from host-microbe dynamics, how bacteria interact with their environment, the function of free-living organisms, microbe community evolution, and mechanisms involved in bacterial cell replication. The overarching goal of the Institute is to gain a better understanding of the microbial world and its impact on the environment and human health.

By Jon Atherton