Kevin Doxzen is a science communications specialist at the Innovative Genomics Institute in Berkeley, CA, associated with Dr. Jennifer Doudna. The Institute specializes in gene editing using CRISPR/Cas.

The CRISPR/Cas system evolved as a bacterial defense against virus attack, but it has been exploited primarily to manipulate the genomes of eukaryotes. CRISPR/Cas has already revolutionized gene editing, and has led to the creation of a large number of modified animals, which has led to ethical questions about human genome manipulation.

Dr. Doxzen talks about how CRISPR/Cas evolved, the various applications that is has been used for, some of the controversies associated with its use, and its further potential to improve human health.

The microCase for listeners to solve is about Nigel Tufnel, an aging rocker with a wild lifestyle who comes down with a life-threatening disease after going fishing in the Gulf of Mexico.

Participants:

  • Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)
  • Kevin Doxzen, Ph.D. (Innovative Genomics Institute/U.C. Berkeley)
  • Janakiram Seshu, Ph.D. (UTSA)
  • Jesus Romo (UTSA)

Puerto Rico suffered a direct hit from the devastating hurricane Maria in September 2017, which destroyed the power grid and caused mass destruction across the island. Recovery has been slow, and Puerto Rican scientists have suffered from the after-effects in their research activities.

Dr. Greetchen Diaz is the Director of Educational Programs at Ciencia Puerto Rico, Dr. Bejamin Bolaños is a professor of mycology at the University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine, Marcos Ramos Benitez is a Ph.D. student at the University of Puerto Rico, and Dr. Zomary Flores is a Professor at the University of Puerto Rico. microTalk recorded this discussion about the situation for Puerto Rican microbiologists post-Maria at the Puerto Rican Society for Microbiology meeting at Universidad del Este in Carolina, Puerto Rico.

These Puerto Rican scientists describe what happened to their laboratories after the hurricane, what it was like to be a graduate student mid-thesis in the middle of the devastation, the current status of science in Puerto Rico, some of the infections that increased in the aftermath, and how supportive the U.S. scientific community has been.

The microCase for listeners to solve is about Jim Beam, a middle-aged marketing executive who gets sick after trying to regain his youth during a backpacking trip.

Participants:

  • Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)Greetchen Diaz Muñoz, Ph.D. (Ciencia Puerto Rico)
  • Benjamin Bolaños, Ph.D., (University of Puerto Rico School of Medicine)
  • Marcos Ramos Benitez (University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences)
  • Zomary Flores-Cruz, Ph.D. (University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras)

Julie Maresca is an associate professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Delaware. Concrete is the most commonly used building material in the world, and is a very unique dry, high pH environment with special chemical properties. Amazingly, there are microbial communities that live within concrete.

Dr. Maresca talks about these trapped communities of microbes, whether they are dormant or growing, whether microbes could be added to make concrete stronger, how some bacteria can thrive in conditions where there are no apparent nutrients, and how the thrill of discovery drove her to be a scientist.

The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Sarah Lee, the diabetic baker at Cake Baby who becomes sick after walking through her neighborhood to work.

Participants:

  • Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)
  • Julie Maresca, Ph.D. (University of Delaware)
  • Jesus Romo (UTSA)

Carol Kumamoto is a professor of microbiology at Tufts University. She studies Candida albicans, the most common fungal pathogen of humans.

C. albicans is a normal commensal of the human body, and it typically does not cause any harm to people, but rather lives happily among the other microbes e.g. within the intestine. However when the host becomes immunocompromised, C. albicans will invade tissues and cause a life-threatening infection.

Dr. Kumamoto talks about how C. albicans’ interactions with the other microbes within the body influences its virulence, the difficulty of developing antifungals that don’t harm people, how antivirulence strategies may identify new antifungals, and how she can’t imagine doing anything else besides being a scientist.

The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Don Risiko, the bat-loving host of the cable TV show “Demons Within Us” who becomes sick after spelunking.

Participants:

  • Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)
  • Carol Kumamoto, Ph.D. (Tufts University)
  • Jose Lopez-Ribot, Ph.D., Pharm.D. (UTSA)
  • Jesus Romo (UTSA)

Cherise Rohr-Allegrini is the program director at the Immunization Partnership, whose goal is to improve vaccination rates in San Antonio and across Texas.

Every year millions of people suffer and die from vaccine-preventable diseases. The Immunization Partnership strives to increase vaccination rates through education and advocacy.

Dr. Rohr-Allegrini talks about how the success of vaccines has ironically contributed to the rise of the anti-vax movement, how the way scientists talk about vaccines is important to increase vaccination rates, the autism-vaccine controversy, the tantalizing approach of polio eradication, and her background in studying vector-borne diseases in developing countries.

The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Sandy Sanchez, the pregnant bird-watching game warden who becomes sick with a mysterious illness that may threaten her baby.

Participants:

  • Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)
  • Cherise Rohr-Allegrini, M.P.H., Ph.D. (The Immunization Partnership)
  • Jesus Romo (UTSA)

Ned Ruby is a professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa who pioneered the study of a fascinating bacterial-squid symbiosis. The bacterium Vibrio fischeri colonizes the light organ of the squid Euprymna scolopes and produces light, which helps the squid avoid predation and provides the bacteria a protected place to thrive.

Over the course of several decades, Dr. Ruby, along with Dr. Margaret McFall-Ngai, have illuminated the complex and elegant interactions between the bacteria and the squid.

Dr. Ruby talks about what a symbiosis is, how V. fischeri can count how many friends are around them through quorum sensing, how they can specifically colonize the squid, and his missed opportunity to have been a professional trumpet player.

The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about John Shriek, a retired Marine who becomes ill after a camping trip with his son’s Pathfinder Troop.

Participants:

  • Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)
  • Ned Ruby, Ph.D. (University of Hawaii at Manoa)
  • Jesus Romo (UTSA)

Sarkis Mazmanian is a professor at California Institute of Technology who studies how the gut microbiome influences the development and function of the nervous system, the “Gut-Brain Axis”. Dr. Mazmanian has discovered that the microbiome influences the development of Parkinson’s Disease (PD), a neurodegenerative disease caused by the loss of dopamine-producing cells in the brain that affects motor function. Dr. Mazmanian talks about the evidence that the gut microbiome influences PD, implications of this research for the diagnosis and treatment of PD, the involvement of the microbiome in other neurological conditions, and people freezing away their poop for fecal transplants. The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Mortimer Dinglehopper, a retired oil tycoon who becomes dangerously ill after his ritual nighttime dessert.

 

Participants:

Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)

Sarkis Mazmanian, Ph.D. (California Institute of Technology)

Janakiram Seshu, Ph.D. (UTSA)

Carlos Paladini, Ph.D. (UTSA)

Students at Southside High School (San Antonio) sent a microbiology experiment up to the International Space Station (ISS). The experiment was designed to look at growth and spore forming ability of the fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis in microgravity. B. dendrobatidis causes chytridiomycosis, a devastating disease that has been decimating amphibian populations around the globe. High school students Lydia, Neco, and Carlos were concerned about the health of frogs and salamanders, and wanted to see if microgravity could inhibit B. dendrobatidis from replicating. The students discuss the process of getting an experiment onto the ISS with Dr. Bob McLean of Texas State San Marcos. Dr. McLean has previously sent up two different microbiology experiments into space, including one on the 2003 Columbia mission that exploded over Texas. The students talk about their interest in science, ideas about helping amphibians, and their experience sending an experiment into space. The MicroCase for listeners to solve is about Thor Ragnarok, an energetic Norwegian child who catches a strange disease from his pet bug Hammerhead.

 

Participants:

Karl Klose, Ph.D. (UTSA)

Jesus Romo (UTSA)

Lydia Araujo (Southside High School)

Neco Jimenez (Southside High School)

Carlos Gonzalez (Southside High School)

Samuel Ebong (Southside Independent School District)

Robert McLean, Ph.D. (Texas State University San Marcos)

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)