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1.28.2020

Miami Winter Symposium 2020 Focuses on the Microbiome and Human Health

Molecular activation triggers for dangerous bacteria like V.cholerae and E.coli were highlighted at the opening presentation of the “Miami Winter Symposium 2020: Molecular Mechanisms Linking the Microbiome and Human Health,” January 26-29 at the Hyatt Regency Miami.

“We have identified a new molecular pathway that tells cholera bacteria to disperse from the host in conditions of high cell density,” said Bonnie Bassler, Ph.D., Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology and chair of the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University. “We have also found that phages – viruses that infect bacteria – can also influence these choices, which can have profound health effects in humans.”

Dr. Bassler was among the renowned scientists presenting their findings at the symposium hosted by the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the University Biochemistry & Molecular Biology Foundation. Other supporters included Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Department of Surgery at the University of Miami, as well as industrial and philanthropic sponsors.

Carl Schulman, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.P.H., executive dean for research at the Miller School, welcomed the 300-plus attendees from 33 countries at Monday’s opening session. He noted the university’s commitment to collaborative, multidisciplinary research in the bench-to-bedside model.

“The microbiome plays a huge role in human health and touches on all aspects of our physiology, and allows for multiple points of interception for diagnosis and therapeutic purposes,” said symposium co-chair Sylvia Daunert, Pharm.D., M.S., Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, the Lucille P. Markey Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and director of BioNIUM, the Dr. John T Macdonald Foundation Biomedical Nanotechnology Institute at the University of Miami.

Her conference co-chairs were Maria T. Abreu, M.D., professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology, director of the Crohn’s & Colitis Center, and the Martin Kalser Chair in Gastroenterology; Sapna Deo, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and graduate program director, and director for education and outreach of BioNIUM; and Judith Pignac-Kobinger, director of the Crohn’s & Colitis Laboratories.

Dr. Daunert paid tribute to former professor and department chair William “Bill” Whelan, who retired last fall at the age of 95. “Bill launched the Miami Winter Symposium 53 years ago, and has been here for every conference,” she said. “We all wish him well.”

Joan Guinovart, past president of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from the Institut de Recerca Biomèdica, Spain, called Dr. Whelan “a giant” who filled many leadership roles in the international society, which now serves 100,000 biochemists and molecular biologists. “This year we provided financial support so 20 young scientists from around the world could attend the symposium.”

In giving the honorary Feodor Lynen Lecture, Dr. Bassler outlined several breakthrough discoveries in the field of quorum sensing – how individual bacteria determine if they are alone or in a group, and then work together to accomplish their tasks, such as making a host sick or healthy.

“We have learned all the domains of life – viruses, bacteria and the host – are now included in the molecular conversation,” said Dr. Bassler. “The task for us now is to study how this activation process works and see if we can one day bring it under control.”

Another lecture during the inaugural day of the symposium was given by the Special Achievement Award recipient, David Relman, M.D., the Thomas C. and Joan M. Merigan Professor in Medicine and in Microbiology & Immunology at the Stanford University School of Medicine. He discussed his groundbreaking work on the effect of the environment on the microbiome and human health. Dr. Relman’s work on the microbiome has been seminal in the field and continues with novel discoveries that correlate toxic exposure and environmental disturbances of the microbiome with health outcomes.

A pre-symposium panel discussion was jointly organized and sponsored by the Frost Institute of Chemistry and Molecular Science on Sunday afternoon. The panel, “Microbiome and Molecular Sciences: the Next Breakthroughs,” included editors of top scientific journals as well as industrial and academic scientists who highlighted current and future microbiome research and its impact in society.

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