2017 Charles and Mary O’Melia Lecture in Environmental Science

Dianne Newman, the Gordon M. Binder/Amgen Professor of Biology and Geobiology at Caltech, will deliver the 2017 Charles and Mary O’Melia Lecture in Environmental Science.

How to Survive when Resources are Scarce: Colorful Bacterial Strategies

While much is known about the adolescent phase of bacterial growth, very little is understood about what sustains bacteria once they reach middle/old age. Interestingly, it is at this later stage that many bacteria begin to produce colorful, redox-active pigments—compounds that hitherto have been classified as “secondary” metabolites, or “antibiotics.” A sizable fraction of bacteria in the environment are metabolically quiescent—viable, but not actively growing. This is true whether they are attached to electrodes in marine sediments, plant roots, or surfaces in the human body. Newman will discuss how her research suggests that the production of pigmented antibiotics may actually be essential for sustaining life at this late phase of microbial development—a discovery with potentially wide-ranging applications, from providing new strategies to boost the efficiency of microbial fuel cells to identifying new therapeutic targets in the context of infection.
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