Microbial Pathogenesis & Host Response Meeting

Visitor of the Week: Bevin English


Meet Bevin English of the University of California, Davis. The postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Renée Tsolis’ lab is at CSHL for her first meeting: Microbial Pathogenesis & Host Response. Here is what she has to say of her first experience:

So far, this meeting is going more or less as I expected, which is great because I had pretty high expectations. I’ve been able to really get to know scientists in my field and hear about their latest results in a really beautiful setting.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
Generally speaking, my research interest is host-pathogen interactions, with a particular focus on intracellular pathogens. Right now I’m investigating how different types of host cells respond to infection with Brucella abortus.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
I became interested in intracellular pathogens specifically during graduate school, when I studied Histoplasma capsulatum under Dr. Anita Sil at UCSF. That was when I started to really appreciate the intricate interplay between the pathogen, which has evolved various strategies to manipulate the biology of the host cell in order to survive inside of it, and the host, which then has to evolve strategies to counteract the pathogen.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I’ve always been interested in science, even as a kid, and I became fascinated by infectious diseases in particular when I was in middle school. I had my first research experience as an undergraduate with Dr. Karen Hales at Davidson College, and after that first experience as an independent investigator--designing, executing, and interpreting my own experiments--I was hooked.

Was there something specific about the Microbial Pathogenesis & Host Response Meeting that drew you to attend?
There was a flyer advertising the meeting outside my lab, and when I saw the list of presenters, I was immediately impressed by the caliber. I chatted with my PI and colleagues who had attended the meeting in the past, and they had nothing but good things to say about it, so I decided to attend.

What is your key takeaway from the Meeting?
There are two sides to every story in host-pathogen interactions, and a lot of people, myself included, tend to stay in their comfort zone. But I’ve talked to a lot of people who emphasized that it’s important to go where the science takes you, and there are always people with more expertise who are willing to help you out.

What and/or how will you apply what you’ve learned from the meeting to your work?
My research project has shifted to immunometabolism, which I don’t have much experience in. Fortuitously, the second talk of this meeting was focused on metabolic reprogramming during infection and showed that a metabolite produced by the host affected bacterial pathogenesis by acting as a signal rather than a nutrient. It’s changing how I think about my results.

If someone curious in attending this meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would definitely tell them to attend. In addition to fascinating presentations on various aspects of pathogenesis from a wide range of microbes, there are ample opportunities to interact with high quality scientists at all stages of their careers, allowing you to get input on both your science and your career development.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I have really enjoyed catching up with friends.

Thank you to Bevin for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.

A Word From: Denise Monack, Raphael Valdivia & Malcolm Whiteway

L to R: Denise Monack, Malcolm Whiteway, Raphael Valdivia

In September 2017, Denise Monack, Raphael Valdivia, and Malcolm Whiteway organized the eleventh meeting of Microbial Pathogenesis and Host Response at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. We met with them to talk about how the meeting has changed and the role that scientific inclusivity plays in its growth.

Raphael: When I was a starting faculty member, my view was that there are categories of microbial pathogenesis that you always have to cover. But over the last few years – and probably since I’ve become a meeting organizer – one of the goals has been to expand into areas where we think the field is moving, or perhaps where the exciting new advances will be happening. Rather than being stuck in a “this is what we need to cover” framework, it’s become more about “where is the future of the field?” 
Denise: I agree with that. The first time I attended this meeting was as a graduate student and I remember a lot of the talks were on the pathogen side, with maybe an infection slide here and there. Now it’s both, and the 2017 meeting in particular covered both sides. People are using Collaborative Cross mice and infecting them to get at host genetics. And with CRISPR/Cas9 you can make mutants much more easily, so I think the host side is getting more coverage. 
Raphael: Also, since we work with people who are outside of what’s considered the standard microbial pathogenesis field, another goal for the meeting is to bring some of those individuals into this field of study because we’ll learn from them. 
Denise: Exactly. That’s why I intentionally invited Isaac Chiu, a neuorimmunologist from Harvard, to give a talk. Since he isn’t a microbiologist, he was really nervous about his lecture. But people in this audience want to hear about neuroimmunology, not take apart his microbiology, so he felt welcome and comfortable. 
Malcolm: Those talks where someone says “nerves for pain are connected to the immune system,” they open a lot of eyes.
Raphael: Similarly, we invited Lawrence David from Duke to give a talk in 2017. He doesn’t work on pathogens but on microbial ecology in the gut, so the perspective he gave was very, very different than what most people in the audience are used to thinking. Getting out of your comfort zone and thinking about your research problems from a different view point is always useful. 
Malcolm: Two years ago, I invited Hendrik Poinar from McMaster University to give a talk. He looked at the plague from an ancient pathogenesis angle that was really cool and well-received. Those are the kinds of things you go back to and think about.
Raphael: That’s right, because they just stick with you. We only know what we know, and sometimes it's what we don’t know that we find most interesting. The 2017 meeting had a session focused on imaging technologies for this reason. A lot of people had not heard of the techniques presented in that session but now they can ask, “How can I apply this technology in my own research questions?” 
Denise: Some of the pathogenesis meetings I go to are almost exclusively on bacteria, so we’ve made this meeting much more multi-organismal. In the future, I’d like to have it be not just for bacterial or fungal pathogens, but maybe invite some specialists in eukaryotic parasites as well. That would make this the go-to meeting for pathogenesis in general.

As the meeting continues to evolve, we wanted to know who they thought would benefit the most from attending: 

Malcolm:  If I was an advanced graduate student looking for a postdoc, I’d want to go to a meeting like this. Besides seeing a lot of different research perspectives, graduate students will also be introduced to people who are at the top in the field, people they’ll want to do postdocs with. 
Raphael: Postdocs looking for faculty positions can also benefit from this meeting because PIs who come here represent departments looking for talent. And for junior faculty, the ability to network and have one-on-one interactions with others in the field is key. That’s one of the reasons why, at the beginning of the meeting, we remind everyone to step out of their comfort zones and make sure they’re not only listening to the science, but also getting into those one-on-one interactions. The science is the hook that allows you to engage a person; if you’re interested in what they’re doing, it is likely that they’re doing a bunch of other things you’ll also find interesting. You never know what opportunities or collaborations will emerge. 

We closed our discussion chatting about what made their meeting different from other pathogenesis meetings:  

With CSHL Meetings & Courses Executive Director David Stewart at the meeting's Wine & Cheese event. Photo: Constance Brukin

With CSHL Meetings & Courses Executive Director David Stewart at the meeting's Wine & Cheese event. Photo: Constance Brukin

Raphael: Well, the organizing team is top-notch.
Malcolm: And the venue is top-notch too.
Raphael: There is something about the environment here. I remember when I first came to the meeting, I just walked around the halls and saw pictures of heroes in science interacting in this setting. It’s a vibe you don’t feel in many places; it’s hard to replicate.
Malcolm: I completely agree. I’ve been coming to Cold Spring Harbor for decades and I loved it from the very beginning. It just has so much history that’s central to molecular biology. It’s great to be in a place with that historical connection…that vibe. 

The Microbial Pathogenesis and Host Response meeting returns to the Laboratory in 2019, where Anita Sil will join Denise Monack and Raphael Valdivia as meeting organizers. If you’re looking for a meeting in the years that Microbial Pathogenesis and Host Response is not at CSHL, the Gene Expression & Signaling in the Immune System meeting is a great alternative.

For more conversations with other meeting organizers, check out the rest of our A Word From series.

Visitor of the Week: Fabian Rivera-Chavez

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Meet Fabian Rivera-Chavez of Harvard Medical School. The postdoctoral research fellow and John Mekalanos lab member returns to the CSHL campus for his second consecutive Microbial Pathogenesis & Host Response meeting. 

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I'm interested in understanding how bacterial pathogens use virulence factors to outcompete the resident bacteria in the intestine and transmit to a new host. I am currently studying the bacterial pathogen Vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of cholera. 

Was there something specific about the Microbial Pathogenesis & Host Response meeting that drew you to apply?
This meeting is a great opportunity to hear about the latest cutting-edge research by some of the top scientists in the field. As a smaller-sized meeting, it is also a fantastic networking opportunity. 

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
Microbial pathogens have very clever strategies for evading (and sometimes even benefiting) from the host immune response. 

How many CSHL meetings have you attended?
This is my second time at the Microbial Pathogenesis & Host Response meeting and I definitely plan to attend this meeting again in the future.

If someone curious in attending a future iteration of Microbial Pathogenesis & Host Response meeting asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
This is one of the top meetings in the field of microbial pathogenesis and is a great opportunity to present your research and connect with peers. These meaningful interactions often lead to lasting relationships that are instrumental to the development of your career. Make the most of the meeting and meet as many people as possible!

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
I really enjoyed being surrounded by an enthusiastic and inspiring group of scientists in the beautiful CSHL campus.  

Thank you to Fabian for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course – go here