Nick Hershbine is awarded UMaine Undergraduate Student Employee of the Year award!

Nick Hershbine, undergraduate student majoring in Ecology and Environmental Sciences in the Ishaq Lab has been awarded a 2020-2021 University of Maine Undergraduate Student Employee of the Year!!!!

Nick Hershbine, collecting soil using a soil corer in a low bush blueberry field, with a pone forest in the background.

Nick began working with me in summer 2020, on a collaborative project looking at microbes in the soil around low bush blueberry plants. At the time, he was early in his undergraduate program and having no prior laboratory skills. In addition, because of the pandemic, we have minimized interactions between students, such that Nick has primarily been working independently with occasional meetings with me to discuss his progress. Despite all of that, he has exceeded my expectations for his capacity to handle this tricky project, and more than that, to have the independence to make it his own and contribute to protocol development. Nick has had a positive impact on the lab, within the confines of the limited interactions between students allowed at this time.  He is kind and friendly, and makes the lab a welcoming place to work. Congrats on the award!!

Johanna Holman is awarded UMaine Grad Student Employee of the Year!

Johanna Holman, Master’s of Nutrition student in the Ishaq Lab has been awarded the 2020-2021 University of Maine Graduate Student Employee of the Year!!!!

I met Johanna in the fall of 2019, when I was just establishing myself as a new Assistant Professor in the School of Food and Agriculture, and she was looking for an advisor for a graduate degree.  Right away, she impressed me with her background and enthusiasm for research.  I learned that Johanna began her undergraduate study as an art student before transitioning fluidly to science.  I see this is an asset – the ability to design visual aid and graphical representations of data is hugely important to science and sadly, not always a skill that scientists are trained to do. Johanna also had a number of service industry jobs, and initially in that first meeting, she was somewhat apologetic for not having been devoted to science jobs from the start.  I countered that I was pleased to see that she has worked in other industries, specifically in difficult service-related jobs.  It is often more important to have patience, dedication, and strong interpersonal skills, such as those gained by working in customer-facing jobs.  I believe that Johanna has and will continue to succeed because of her varied education and experience.

Once she became a science student during her undergraduate study, she worked in the laboratories of Drs. Yanyan Li, Associate Professor (of nutrition) in the College of Science and Humanities, and Tao Zhang, Assistant Professor of Basic Pharmaceutical Sciences, both of Husson University in Bangor.  There, she has performed nutritional biochemistry, worked with mouse models, and developed an idea of what she wanted to study in graduate school and pursue as a career. 

Johanna officially joined my lab and started as a Master’s Student of Nutrition at UMaine in fall 2020, and immediately got to work.  Not only did she begin preparations for the massive undertaking that is part of her project, but she began mentoring several undergraduates on and off campus, and started as a first time teaching assistant for the Chemistry department, which required navigating virtual labs.

Johanna’s project focuses on whether consumption of specific broccoli sprout preparations will elicit changes in the gut microbiota, to the effect of improving the production of microbiota-specific bioactives that have local anti-inflammatory effects, and promoting intestinal homeostasis by reducing dysbiosis. This project is a continuation of previous research on bioactive compounds in broccoli, completed in the labs of Drs. Yanyan Li and Tao Zhang at Husson University in Bangor.  While some of the work may be similar, the skill set is entirely new.  For the winter break, Johanna was managing a 40-mouse study for 5 weeks, which has resulted in hundreds of samples collected, hundreds of data time points, and enough follow-up laboratory and analysis work to keep her occupied for an entire year.  She has learned how to culture bacteria in an anaerobic chamber, which is a notoriously fussy machine that requires regular attention, as well as to grow them under different conditions for biochemical analysis and enzyme activity.  She will be learning DNA extraction, DNA sequencing library preparation, DNA sequence analysis, and will lead the generation of a large manuscript on the results.

It might seem too early to recommend a graduate student for this award after just one semester, but it is remarkable that a new master’s student could achieve all of this in their first semester during a pandemic.  I have informally mentored graduate and undergraduate students for years, and it is easy to spot the ones who will go far in science. Johanna has a highly successful career ahead of her, and I am honored to be one stop on that path.  This award will not only acknowledge the incredible amount of work she has accomplished, but it will support an early career researcher who has every quality to make research a hospitable and collaborate place.

Save the date for the Microbes and Social Equity symposium!

Sign up for updates!!

We are in the processing of finalizing our speaker list and program, as well as creating registration links. Stay tuned for more information.

In the meantime, please enjoy our free speaker series!

Applications still open for Assistant Extension of Professor / Assistant Professor of Animal Science at the University of Maine

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension invites applications for a full-time, fiscal-year, continuing contract eligible faculty appointment as Assistant Extension Professor and Assistant Professor of Animal Science. 

This position is an 85% appointment with UMaine Extension and a 15% teaching appointment through the University of Maine School of Food and Agriculture.

The successful candidate will be located on the campus of the University of Maine in Orono, Maine.

The faculty member in this position will develop and lead educational outreach and applied research with an emphasis on dairy science; work with other UMaine faculty and professionals, advisory boards and volunteers to offer off-campus programs addressing the educational needs of the Maine dairy industry and other agricultural industries; teach undergraduate courses in the School of Food and Agriculture (SFA).

For a complete job description and to apply: https://umaine.hiretouch.com/job-details?jobid=66728

Search Timeline is as follows:
Review of applications to begin: April 15, 2021
Screening interviews to begin no earlier than: April 30, 2021
On-site (or virtual visit) interviews to begin no earlier than: May 15, 2021
Tentative start date: July 1, 2021

Six more rockstar science presentations left in the Microbes and Social Equity speaker series!

The Microbes and Social Equity speaker series has hosted some excellent talks on health, ecosystem health, microbes, social policy, and education. All the talks have been recorded, and are available for free, on demand! You can find the links to each video under each speaker’s profile on the main series page.


Embodied microbiomes: a 4E-cognition perspective on microbial life and social equity 

Dr. Francisco Parada Flores, PhD

March 24, 2021, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register here.

About the speaker: After studying Psychology and Neuroscience in Chile, I moved to the USA to pursue my Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology and Neural Sciences at the Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Indiana University-Bloomington. During this period I was able to work on neural signal processing, brain networks, and embodiment within the context of social cognition. After continuing my development through postdoctoral work at the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School I came back to Chile as a tenured professor of Psychology at Universidad Diego Portales (UDP). At UDP I funded the Center for Human Neuroscience & Neuropsychology (CEHNN), a multi-PI research center and day clinic for brain lesion survivors dedicated to the development of the transdisciplinary 4E cognition research program. 

Twitter: @fj_parada

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Francisco_J_Parada


Integrating Equity into Emerging Infectious Disease Research 

Dr. Kishana Taylor, MS, PhD

March 31, 2021, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register here.

About the speaker:  Dr. Kishana Taylor is a virologist and Co-founder and president of the Black Microbiologists Association. Dr. Taylor holds a bachelors degree in animal science, a masters of public health microbiology and emerging infectious disease and a doctorate in interdisciplinary biomedical science.  Dr. Taylor is currently a postdoctoral fellow at Carnegie Mellon University in the lab of Dr. Elizabeth Wayne. Her current NSF funded research focuses on the role of monocytes and macrophages in SARS-CoV2 infection and subsequent development of COVID-19.  Dr. Taylors research interest include arboviruses, zoonotic viruses and their epidemiology, ecology and evolution. 

Twitter: @KYT_ThatsME

https://kishanataylor.com/

About the seminar: Much like previous pandemics, the COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, especially in the U.S., has brought to the forefront pre-existing social and structural inequalities that affect access to quality healthcare and perpetuate viral spread. As we begin to think toward the future and the next inevitable pandemic, it is important to incorporate the lessons learned from this pandemic, and others, in an attempt to mitigate similar patterns of inequity in the future.


Social and ethical implications of human microbiome research.

Dr. Kieran O’Doherty, PhD

April 7, 2021, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register here.

About the speaker: Dr. Kieran C. O’Doherty is professor in the department of psychology at the University of Guelph, where he directs the Discourse, Science, Publics research Group. His research focuses on the social and ethical implications of science and technology. In this context, he has published on such topics as data governance, vaccines, human tissue biobanks, salmon genomics, and genetic testing. A particular emphasis of his research has been on the social and ethical aspects of human microbiome research. Kieran’s research also emphasizes public deliberation on science and technology. In this regard, he has designed and implemented deliberative forums in which members of the public engage in in-depth discussion about ethical aspects of science and technology and collectively develop recommendations for policy. Recent edited volumes include Psychological Studies of Science and Technology (2019) and The Sage Handbook of Applied Social Psychology (2019). Kieran’s research has been funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Research & Innovation, Genome Canada and Genome British Columbia. He is editor of Theory & Psychology.

Lab website: https://dsp.uoguelph.ca

Twitter: Personal, @KieranODoherty; Lab, @dsp_lab

About the seminar: There are many social and ethical implications of human microbiome research. In this presentation, I will focus on 3 types of ethical implications. The first type are ethical considerations that should be taken into account when conducting research on the human microbiome. Key points here include issues relating to information privacy, ownership of samples and data, and the rights of Indigenous and other identifiable communities from whom microbiome samples might be obtained. The second type of ethical implications relates to the consequences of specific technologies and applications developed using microbiome science. Examples here include the consequences of strategic engineering of microbes and their use in human and animal populations. The third kind of ethical implications I will discuss relates to problems that are already present, but have only become visible, or perhaps just more obvious, as a result of knowledge generated by human microbiome research. An example here is damage to vaginal microbiomes that is caused by vaginal cleansing products promoted to women to feel “Clean & Fresh.” In this context, I argue that clinical applications of human microbiome science, while valuable, are too narrow when considering the damage that is being done our collective microbiomes as a society and a species. I conclude by reiterating calls for recognition of the microbiome as a common good and the need for stewardship of microbiomes.


Investigating social determinates of health and social equity among a homeless population; a United States-Veteran Microbiome Project  

LTC. Andrew J. Hoisington, Ph.D.

April 14, 2021, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register here.

About the speaker: Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Hoisington is currently an adjunct Associate Professor at the Air Force Institute of Technology as he serves on active duty Air Force rebuilding Tyndall AFB after hurricane Michael. Lt Col Hoisington received his PhD in 2013 from the University of Texas, studying the indoor microbiome. In 2015 he was one of four founding members of the Military and Veterans Microbiome Consortium for Research and Education, an organization to advance microbiome science and education to benefit military personnel, Veterans, and their families. 

Twitter: @MVM_CoRE Website: https://www.mirecc.va.gov/visn19/mvm/

About the seminar: In 2019, over half a million people in the United States did not have a place to call home. Research suggests that homeless individuals have higher rates of diet deficiencies, physical and mental health disorders (e.g., infectious diseases, depression), and inadequate health care when compared to those who are stably housed. From a social equity perspective, risk for homelessness is impacted by a range of social determinants including socioeconomic status and race/ethnicity. Here we present the results 16S rRNA and metagenomics analysis from a US Military Veterans who are currently or were previously homeless. To the best of our knowledge, these preliminary results are the first known study of the microbiome among those with a history of homelessness and will likely contribute to a better understanding of interactions among social determinates of health, social equity, the human microbiome, and human health. 


Physiological Implications of Pre-Existing Inflammatory Co-Morbidities when the Body is Introduced to Novel Infectious Processes   

Dr. Deborah Saber, PhD, RN, CCRN-K

April 21, 2021, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register here.

About the speaker: Dr. Saber is an Assistant Professor in the School of Nursing at the University of Maine where she teaches pathophysiological and critical care concepts to upper-level undergraduate nursing students. She also holds a joint position at Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center where she directs the program development for nursing research and evidence-based practice. As a practicing intensive care registered nurse (RN) with over 25 years of patient care nursing experience, she has cared for patients infected with multidrug-resistant organisms (e.g., methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus (VRE), multidrug-resistant tuberculosis) and diseases from outbreaks that include human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and H1N1. Dr. Saber’s research focuses on microbial movement in the healthcare setting as this relates to the use personal protective equipment (PPE) and resulting solid waste.

umaine.edu/nursing/people/deborah-saber-ph-d-rn-ccrn-k/

About the seminar: This seminar will focus on findings from the literature that emphasize the vulnerability of populations with preexisting health conditions that impact their ability to defend against infectious diseases. We will discuss common co-morbid conditions, the role of the inflammatory processes in infectious processes, and how social inequity can predispose vulnerable populations to novel infectious processes.


Missing Microbes and Missing Out: microbes and social equity in the context of youth in detention.  

Dr. Ally Hunter, PhD. and Christina Bosch, M.A., M.Ed.

April 28, 2021, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. Register here.

Ally Hunter, PhD Science Education, MS Biology (Micro & Molecular)
Postdoctoral Fellow
Center for Youth Engagement
NSF Project RAISE (Reclaiming Access to Inquiry Science Education for Incarcerated Learners)
NSF Project INSITE (INtegrating STEM Into Transition Education for Incarcerated Youth)
University of Massachusetts, Amherst

https://www.umass.edu/education/people/ally-hunter

Christina Anderson Bosch
Doctoral Candidate at University of Massachusetts, Amherst 
M.A., Special Education: Learning Disabilities
M. Ed., Mind, Brain and Education
NSF Project RAISE (Reclaiming Access to Inquiry Science Education for Incarcerated Learners)

https://umass.academia.edu/ChristinaBosch

About the seminar: In the US, incarcerated youth are a population that are vulnerable to a variety of poor outcomes that include disrupted or incomplete education, unemployment, homelessness, health disparities, and incarceration as adults.  Through the lens of microbiome health we can envision additional poor outcomes for incarcerated youth: loss of access to nutrition and diet education, loss of access to diets that support microbiome health, loss of access to beneficial microbes, and over-exposure to harmful microbes.  

This presentation will discuss the potential for microbial inequity for incarcerate youth and highlight current educational responses that could serve to mitigate some of these disparities.

Using our experiences as educational researchers and curriculum developers on STEM education initiatives for incarcerated youth, we will present background information on this particularly vulnerable population.  We will discuss our work on developing biology curriculum for juvenile justice settings and where we see a need for further development of microbiology, nutrition and basic health curriculum.  Then, we will facilitate a group discussion to engage the scientific community with this understudied and underserved population in the context of microbial inequity.

A study I contributed to was published!

A study was recently published, led by Dr. Huawei Zeng, USDA Animal Research Station, on gut health, nutrition, and gut microbiota! I contributed analysis and interpretation for the gut community data, and though I appear as last author on this publication, it is truly because I contributed the least and not because I was administrative lead or the lead PI. I have worked with Dr. Zeng for several years, although we have never met in person,

Dr. Zeng’s presentation of this project can be found here: Adequacy of calcium and vitamin D enriches probiotic bacteria and reduces dysbiotic Parasutterela bacteria and inflammation in the colon of C57BL/6 mice fed a Western-style diet


Zeng, H., Safratowich, B.D., Liu, Z., Bukowski, , M.R., Ishaq, S.L. 2021. Adequacy of calcium and vitamin D reduces inflammation, β-catenin signaling, and dysbiotic Parasutterella bacteria in the colon of C57BL/6 mice fed a Western-style diet. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry. In press.

Abstract

Adoption of an obesogenic diet low in calcium and vitamin D (CaD) leads to increased obesity, colonic inflammation, and cancer. However, the underlying mechanisms remain to be elucidated. We tested the hypothesis that CaD supplementation (from inadequacy to adequacy) may reduce colonic inflammation, oncogenic signaling, and dysbiosis in the colon of C57BL/6 mice fed a Western diet. Male C57/BL6 mice (4-week old) were assigned to 3 dietary groups for 36 weeks: (1) AIN76A as a control diet (AIN); (2) a defined rodent “new Western diet” (NWD); or (3) NWD with CaD supplementation (NWD/CaD). Compared to the AIN, mice receiving the NWD or NWD/CaD exhibited more than 0.2-fold increase in the levels of plasma leptin, tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α) and body weight. The levels of plasma interleukin 6 (IL-6), inflammatory cell infiltration, and β-catenin/Ki67 protein (oncogenic signaling) were increased more than 0.8-fold in the NWD (but not NWD/CaD) group compared to the AIN group. Consistent with the inflammatory phenotype, colonic secondary bile acid (BA, inflammatory bacterial metabolite) levels increased more than 0.4-fold in the NWD group compared to the NWD/CaD and AIN groups. Furthermore, the abundance of colonic Proteobacteria (e.g., Parasutterela), considered signatures of dysbiosis, was increased more than 4-fold; and the α diversity of colonic bacterial species, indicative of health, was decreased by 30% in the NWD group compared to the AIN and NWD/CaD groups. Collectively, CaD adequacy reduces colonic inflammation, β-catenin oncogenic signaling, secondary BAs, and bacterial dysbiosis in mice fed with a Western diet.


This is part of a multi-year collaboration, with previous publications:

  • Zeng, H., Ishaq, S.L., Liu, Z., Bukowski, M.R. 2017. Colonic aberrant crypt formation accompanies an increase of opportunistic pathogenic bacteria in C57BL/6 mice fed a high-fat diet. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 54:18-27. Impact 4.418. Article.
  • Zeng, H., Ishaq, S.L., Zhao, F-Q., Wright, A-D.G. 2016. Colonic inflammation accompanies an increase of b-catenin signaling Lachnospiraceae/Streptococcaceae in the hind-gut of high-fat diet-fed mice. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 25:30-36. Impact 4.518. Article

I’ve joined the Editorial Board at mSystems!

I’m delighted to announce that I have been appointed to a 3 year term as an Editor at mSystems, an open-access scientific journal published by the American Society for Microbiology! mSystems is focused on cutting edge research related to microbial ecology, and hosts leading authors, editors, and reviewers in this field.

As an Editor, I will help foster scientific manuscripts through the review process. This will involve checking through the manuscript and making sure it is a good fit for the journal and in reasonable shape, before contacting active researchers working on related topics to perform a single-blind review (the review knows who the authors are but the authors don’t know who the reviewers are during the process). Once the reviewers have supplied their comments and recommendation, I synthesize these and make a decision about whether to invite the authors to submit a revised version or pass on the manuscript. Editors are critical for making sure someone qualifies reviews the work, and that reviews are balanced out by expertise and perspective. I’m pleased to be able to contribute to the advancement of scientific research in this way, and particularly at a journal that supports open sharing of information.

mSystems® publishes preeminent work that stems from applying technologies for high-throughput analyses to achieve insights into the metabolic and regulatory systems at the scale of both the single cell and microbial communities. The scope of mSystems encompasses all important biological and biochemical findings drawn from analyses of large data sets, as well as new computational approaches for deriving these insights. mSystems welcomes submissions from researchers who focus on the microbiome, genomics, metagenomics, transcriptomics, metabolomics, proteomics, glycomics, bioinformatics, and computational microbiology. mSystems provides streamlined decisions, while carrying on ASM’s tradition of rigorous peer review.”

About mSystems, https://msystems.asm.org/content/about-msystems
A close-up picture of petri dishes containing a light yellow film of microbes.

Rebecca received an undergraduate research award!

Rebecca French, an undergraduate researcher in Animal and Veterinary Science, is beginning her time in the Ishaq Lab with an auspicious start: she has been awarded a 2021 research award from the J. Franklin Witter Undergraduate Research Endowment Fund! The fund supports AVS undergraduate student involvement in faculty supervised research which involves the J. Franklin Witter Teaching & Research Center.

Rebecca’s project will involve zoonotic disease tracking in rodent populations that live near farms/human development versus those which live in more natural areas, and will take place at the Witter farm and a paired natural ecosystem. Her project is part of a larger collaboration between myself and a team of researchers, which was recently funded by the University of Maine, but which has not yet been announced (details soon).

Rebecca formally joined my research lab in February of this year, but I have had the pleasure of teaching her in my data analysis class since January, which will be a handy skillset later in the project. She also learn and perform microbial culturing, qPCR, Sanger sequencing, and even some animal trapping, handling, and identification; mammal physiology data collection and analysis.

Rebecca French

Undergraduate Researcher, Animal and Veterinary Sciences

Rebecca is an animal and veterinary science student with a concentration in pre-veterinary medicine. She joined the Ishaq lab team in 2021 as a part of her capstone project, which is focused on flying squirrels and mice that are carrying zoonotic pathogens into Maine.

Applications sought for Assistant Extension Professor and Assistant Professor of Animal Science at the University of Maine

The University of Maine Cooperative Extension invites applications for a full-time, fiscal-year, continuing contract eligible faculty appointment as Assistant Extension Professor and Assistant Professor of Animal Science. 

This position is an 85% appointment with UMaine Extension and a 15% teaching appointment through the University of Maine School of Food and Agriculture.

The successful candidate will be located on the campus of the University of Maine in Orono, Maine.

The faculty member in this position will develop and lead educational outreach and applied research with an emphasis on dairy science; work with other UMaine faculty and professionals, advisory boards and volunteers to offer off-campus programs addressing the educational needs of the Maine dairy industry and other agricultural industries; teach undergraduate courses in the School of Food and Agriculture (SFA).

For a complete job description and to apply: https://umaine.hiretouch.com/job-details?jobid=66728

Search Timeline is as follows:
Review of applications to begin: April 15, 2021
Screening interviews to begin no earlier than: April 30, 2021
On-site (or virtual visit) interviews to begin no earlier than: May 15, 2021
Tentative start date: July 1, 2021