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Microbial Systems Initiative at Illinois


Multidisciplinary Microbial Systems
Research at the University of Illinois

The Illinois Microbial Systems Initiative seeks to enhance cross-disciplinary collaborations among researchers with a common interest in microbial science and improving the health of humans, communities, and the planet through the application of microbiome-based discoveries.

As I mentioned last month, we are kicking off our strategic hiring plan. In the coming months, we will search for six tenure-track faculty across five colleges, thanks to the recent funding awarded for the MSI Investment for Growth project. On Monday, we will welcome a faculty candidate for the Exercise Physiology – Microbiome and Health Assistant Professor position in the College of Applied Health Sciences. This is the first of many visits we plan to host in the next several months. I hope that you will join us for these faculty candidate presentations, as this is an excellent opportunity to contribute to the strategic growth of microbial systems research on our campus.

FYI - This will be our final newsletter for the year. Since we won’t publish a December newsletter, I’d like to wish you a smooth end to your semester and a safe and happy winter break.

Thank you for being part of our community!



Researcher Spotlight - Katy Heath

photo of Professor Katy Heath

“I recall John writing numbers on the back of the waxy, thick mangrove leaves and holding them up like playing cards for me to pick – providing a quick randomization scheme for us to choose our next focal plant for measurement. This whole process was just insanely fun to me, despite the nightmares I was secretly having about sinking into the peat during our treks through the mangroves, so I was officially hooked on plant research. My love of microbes came a bit later, but they follow very naturally when you care about plant ecology and evolution!”

This month’s researcher spotlight focuses on Katy Heath, PhD, an associate professor of Plant Biology in the School of Integrative Biology and the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. Most of Prof. Heath’s research focuses on the interactions between legumes and rhizobia, namely in the agronomically-important soybean-Bradyrhizobium interaction, invasive/naturalized clover-rhizobium interactions, invasive/naturalized Medicago lupulina-Sinorhizobium interactions, and the native prairie legume Chamaecrista fasciculata and associated rhizobia.

Read more about Prof. Heath, her research, and her path to a career plant biology


AHS Faculty Candidate Seminars

As previously mentioned, three candidates for the Exercise Physiology – Microbiome and Health Assistant Professor position in the College of Applied Health Sciences will be on campus for interviews in the coming weeks. Mark your calendars and plan to join us. 

Nov. 11 – On Monday, Patricia Wolf, PhD, RD, will be giving a seminar titled, "Microbial Amino Acid Metabolism and Gut Health," at noon in Huff Hall room 1002.
Nov. 18-19 – Jacob Allen, PhD, will visit campus.
Dec. 2-3 – Jason Martin, PhD, will visit campus.

Stay tuned for announcements of seminar titles and dates. More information will also be posted to the MSI calendar.

Read brief introductions about each faculty candidate in the email sent on Nov. 6


NSF Funding Opportunity | Understanding the Rules of Life: Microbiome Theory and Mechanisms

The NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences, Division of Integrative Organismal Systems released a funding opportunity announcement for Understanding the Rules of Life: Microbiome Theory and Mechanisms (URoL:MTM) program. The URoL:MTM Program is focused on the predictive and mechanistic understanding of the structure and function of these microbiomes and the connections, interactions, and interdependencies within and among the microbiome, the host, and the environment (biological, chemical, physical, and social). The major objective of URoL:MTM is to develop an integrated understanding of how microbiome members communicate and interact with each other, with their environments, and with their hosts, across various spatial and temporal scales.

A letter of intent is due Jan. 17, 2020. Please contact Maggie Berg if you would like to participate in a coordinated MSI effort to develop a proposal.

Visit the MSI website for an up-to-date listing of funding opportunities


Deciphering the Microbiome Virtual Workshop | Dec. 8-10, 2019

Deciphering the Microbiome: Empowering Theory, Cross-System Analyses and Innovative Analytics to Propel Advances in Microbiome Science is a 2-day NSF-sponsored workshop that will address critical gaps in microbiome science. Virtual attendance is open to 100+ participants at no cost. Virtual participants commit to participating over the course of the workshop and can register as individuals or as a group of 6-10 with a designated lead. Those who register as individuals will be assigned to a virtual community of 6-8 scientists.

Details and registration


Featured Publication: Mechanisms of virus dissemination in bone marrow of HIV-1-infected humanized BLT mice

Immune progenitor cells differentiate in bone marrow (BM) and then migrate to tissues. HIV-1 infects multiple BM cell types, but virus dissemination within BM has been poorly understood. In this paper, Prof. Collin Kieffer and colleagues from the California Institute of Technology and University of California, Los Angeles, used light microscopy and electron tomography to elucidate mechanisms of HIV-1 dissemination within BM of HIV-1–infected BM/liver/thymus (BLT) mice. Tissue clearing combined with confocal and light sheet fluorescence microscopy revealed distinct populations of HIV-1 p24-producing cells in BM early after infection, and quantification of these populations identified macrophages as the principal subset of virus-producing cells in BM over time. Electron tomography demonstrated three modes of HIV-1 dissemination in BM: (i) semi-synchronous budding from T-cell and macrophage membranes, (ii) mature virus association with virus-producing T-cell uropods contacting putative target cells, and (iii) macrophages engulfing HIV-1–producing T-cells and producing virus within enclosed intracellular compartments that fused to invaginations with access to the extracellular space. These results illustrate mechanisms by which the specialized environment of the BM can promote the virus to spread locally and to distant lymphoid tissues.

Read more


Recent Publications

10.29.2019 Metabolic modeling of Streptococcus mutans reveals complex nutrient requirements of an oral pathogen

10.18.2019 Production of galactitol from galactose by the oleaginous yeast Rhodosporidium toruloides IFO0880

10.18.2019 DprA-dependent exit from the competent state regulates multifaceted Streptococcus pneumoniae virulence

Have you recently published a paper on research of interest to the Microbial Systems community? If so, we’d love to hear about it. You can share a link to your publication in Slack or email Maggie Berg.


Send Us Your Microbial Systems Speaker Suggestions

We are looking for engaging speakers and researchers working at the forefront of microbial sciences to bring to Urbana-Champaign. If you have ideas or suggestions, please send them to Maggie Berg or share them in Slack.


Join the MSI on Slack

Start a conversation about pursuing a funding opportunity, share news, events, and opportunities, or even reach out to MSI students on campus. These are just a few of the things you can do in the MSI Slack space.

Did you know that the MSI Slack space has a MicroERA channel for the Microbial Early-career Researchers Association (MicroERA)? Early researchers (undergraduate – postdoctoral students) are encouraged to join!

The MSI Slack Community is growing. Join us!


In the News

11.6.2019 Scrubbing your house of bacteria could clear the way for fungus

10.31.2019 How measles causes the body to ‘forget’ past infections by other microbes

10.25.2019 Fire-spawned forest fungi hide out in other organisms, study finds

10.23.2019 Chemicals released by bacteria may help gut control the brain, mouse study suggests

10.11.2019 Computational models used to predict behavior of protein complexes



The Illinois Microbial Systems Initiative is supported by the
OVCR, IHSI, IGB, the School of MCB, and the Department of Microbiology.

The Microbial Systems Initiative newsletter is sent by the Interdisciplinary Health Sciences Institute at Illinois
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