It’s a Fungal Jungle Out There! A Discussion with Mary Ann Jabra-Rizk

Dr. Mary Ann Jabra-Rizk is an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland, where she studies the fungus Candida albicans and its interactions with the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. C. albicans is a normal commensal fungus and S. aureus is also a common human commensal, but both are also opportunistic pathogens of humans. Fungi and bacteria are separated by several billion years of evolution, and yet Dr. Jabra-Rizk is studying how these organisms communicate with each other and team up to enhance their virulence. Dr. Jabra-Rizk talks about fungal-bacterial coinfections, the difficulty of effectively treating polymicrobial infections, and how she asked for her first microscope at the age of 13. The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Bear Britches, a college student who goes to Spring Break to cut loose and have fun, only to return with an infectious disease.

 

Participants:

Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)

Mary Ann Jabra-Rizk, Ph.D. (University of Maryland)

Jose Lopez-Ribot, Ph.D., Pharm.D. (UTSA)

Jesus Romo (UTSA)

Time for Lyme: A Discussion with Dr. Steve Norris

Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/The University of Texas Medical School at Houston Office of Communications
Dr. Steve Norris – Pathology

Dr. Steven Norris is a Professor at the University of Texas Health Houston, where he studies Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S. and it can lead to lifelong debilitating conditions, including arthritis and neurological symptoms. Dr. Norris has been studying B. burgdorferi for many years in his laboratory, and investigated various aspects of how this organism causes disease in infected hosts, including its motility, surface proteins, and plasmids. Dr. Norris discusses everything you ever wanted to know about Lyme disease, including how people get the disease, the prospect for vaccines and eradication, the difficulty of working with this and other spirochetes in the lab, and his hobby of paleontology. The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Wolfgang Schweinsteiger, the German accordion player who fulfills his lifelong dream to go to the Grand Canyon, only to come down with a deadly disease.

 

Participants:

Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)

Steve Norris, Ph.D. (UT Health Houston)

Janakiram Seshu, Ph.D. (UTSA)

Rachel Chen (UTSA)

Dr. Andrew Alspaugh is a physician and Professor of Medicine at Duke University School of Medicine. Dr. Alspaugh is a mycologist, which means he studies fungi. Fungi typically cause serious and sometimes fatal disease in immunocompromised people. It is difficult to treat and prevent fungal diseases in these patients, due to their poorly functioning immune systems.

Dr. Alspaugh is doing research on Cryptococcus neoformans, a common fungal infection of HIV-infected individuals. Dr. Alspaugh discusses fungal infections and the development of treatments and cures, his involvement in training mycologists at Woods Hole in Massachusetts, and how physician-patient interaction influences the research in his laboratory.

The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Grumpy McGrumpface, the retired out-of-shape accountant who tries to get physically fit, only to come down with a life-threatening illness.

Participants:

  • Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)
  • Andrew Alspaugh, M.D. (Duke University)
  • Floyd Wormley, Ph.D. (UTSA)
  • Jose Lopez-Ribot, Ph.D. (UTSA)

Hall

Allan Hall is the lead distiller at Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling, a “brewstillery” located in San Antonio that makes handcrafted beer and whiskey.

 

Beer brewing is applied microbiology utilizing the fungus Saccharomyces cerevisiae to ferment sugars that produce alcohol. Allan talks about the history of brewing and fermentation, the challenges of being an independent craft brewery, the science behind distilling whiskey, beer brewing around the world, and finding his love for science on the big island of Hawaii.

 

The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Corky Kettle, a volunteer at a wildlife rehabilitation center with a soft spot for injured animals, who gets sick after rescuing a fox by the side of the road.

Participants:

  • Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)
  • Allan Hall (Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling)
  • Jesus Romo (UTSA)
  • Ariana Detmar (Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling)

(Blood, That Is) and Transmit Diseases, Too!  Dr. Mary Ann McDowell is an Associate Professor at the University of Notre Dame. Dr. Joao Pedra is an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

McDowell studies the parasitic disease Leishmaniasis, which is transmitted tomcdowellhumans through the bite of a sandfly. Pedra studies Lyme disease and Anaplasmosis, which are bacterial diseases that are transmitted to humans through the bite of a tick. The sandfly and tick vectors play an essential role in the lifecycle of these human pathogens, and both McDowell’s and Pedra’s research is investigating the interaction of these pathogens with their vectors. A better understanding of vector biology may lead to novel means to control these diseases.

Drs. McDowell and Pedra discuss the possibility of controlling vector-borne disease by vaccines that target Pedra Joaopathogen transmission, the impact of global warming on vector-borne disease, and how teachers play an important role in inspiring the next generation of scientists.

The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Adriana Wellington, a waitress at the Hitching Post who gets a mysterious disease while fulfilling her lifelong dream to see gorillas in the wild.

 

 

Participants:

  • Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)
  • Dr. Mary Ann McDowell (University of Notre Dame)
  • Dr. Joao Pedra (University of Maryland School of Medicine)

Dr. Travis Block is senior scientist at StemBioSys, Inc., a biotech company working on stem cell biology, and also the president of San Antonio Science, an organization that promotes science awareness. Dr. Block talks about the promise of stem cell research in treating various diseases, including cancers and degenerative diseases, and the challenges of developing technologies that can be affordable and useful for everyone. Dr. Block discusses ethical issues associated with stem cell research, whether humans can live forever, and how important it is for scientists to communicate to the public. The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Lucia Ricardo, a first grade teacher who comes down with a mysterious illness after helping clean up a coastal town wiped out by a hurricane.

 

 

 

Participants:

Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)

Travis Block, Ph.D. (StemBioSys)

Neal Guentzel, Ph.D. (UTSA)

 

Dr. Anthony Griffiths and Dr. Ricardo Carrion are scientists at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute who work on some of the most dangerous viruses in the world under Biological Safety Level 4 (BSL4) containment. BSL4 is the highest form of biological containment that is required for viruses that have a high level of lethality and for which there is no cure. The ebola virus caused a huge outbreak in Western Africa in 2014 that led to over 11,000 deaths, and when an ebola-infected patient arrived in the United States it led to widespread panic.  Dr. Griffiths and Dr. Carrion are performing research with the ebola virus within a BSL4 laboratory, and are developing therapeutics and vaccines against ebola infections. Dr. Griffiths and Dr. Carrion discuss what it’s like to work in a BSL4 laboratory, what is the outlook for an effective ebola vaccine, and how to work with ebola-infected fruit bats in a BSL4 lab.  The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Prickly Pete, a crusty ranch hand who comes down with a mysterious disease after Mrs. Butterworth, his favorite cow dies.

 

Participants:

Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)

Jesus Romo (UTSA)

Anthony Griffiths, Ph.D. (TBRI)

Ricardo Carrion, Ph.D. (TBRI)

 

Ron Nirenberg is the mayor of San Antonio, the seventh largest city in the U.S.  San Antonio is one of the fastest growing cities, and bioscience is a major driver of the economy.  Mayor Nirenberg talks about the importance of bioscience to the economy, and how the universities, military medicine, and private entities in San Antonio are critical components of the bioscience sector.  He discusses with Ann Stevens, the President of BioMedSA several issues, including global warming, protection of the largest concentration of mammals in the world (Bracken bat cave), ways to stimulate the bioscience community, and his hobby of weightlifting. The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Homer Cheatum, an ambulance-chasing lawyer known as the Texas Chainsaw who gets a mysterious disease that nearly costs him his life.

 

Participants:

Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)

Ron Nirenberg

Ann Stevens

Floyd Wormley, Ph.D.  (UTSA)

 

Dr. David Blehert is the Branch Chief of the Wildlife Disease Diagnostic Laboratories with the U.S. Geological Survey, and a world expert on White Nose Syndrome (WNS).  WNS is a fungal disease that is decimating American bat populations.  The fungus, Pseudogymnoascus destructans, infects hibernating bats and disrupts their hibernation, leading to high levels of mortality, close to 100% in some caves.  Dr. Blehert is working to study this fungus and come up with treatments and cures for American bat populations before it is too late.  He is joined by Jonah Evans, who with Texas Parks and Wildlife is surveying Texas bat populations for the arrival of WNS.  Dr. Blehert and Jonah discuss how this fungus kills bats, ideas on how to save our bat populations, and how their love of animals and nature drove them into their careers. The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Fabienne Coolidge, a soft-hearted animal lover who gets an infection from her stray cat, Luke Skywhisker.

 

Participants:

Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)

David Blehert, Ph.D. (USGS)

Jonah Evans, M.S. (Texas Parks & Wildlife)

Jesus Romo (UTSA)


 

 

Dr. Jimmy Ballard is professor and chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.  Dr. Ballard is an expert on Clostridia-related diseases, and specifically disease caused by C. difficile, or “Cdiff”.   Cdiff infections result from heavy antibiotic usage, and can cause serious and even fatal disease.   One of the most successful treatments for Cdiff infection is a fecal transplant, where fecal bacteria from a healthy donor are transplanted into the patient.  Dr. Desh Sharma is a gastroenterologist who performs fecal transplants on his patients with Cdiff infections.  Dr. Ballard discusses how Cdiff causes disease, Dr. Sharma discusses exactly how a fecal transplants is performed, and both talk a lot of s*&t.  The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Guera Macarena, a zookeeper who comes down with a strange disease after holding races with some of her zoo animals.

 

Participants:

Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)

Jimmy Ballard, Ph.D. (OUHSC)

Desh Sharma, M.D. (Stone Oak Gastroenterology)

Janakiram Seshu, Ph.D. (UTSA)