MSE speaker series, spring 2022

“The Microbes and Social Equity Speaker Series 2022”

Spring 2022; Jan 19 – May 4, Wednesdays at 12:00 – 13:00 EST

Presented over Zoom. Registration is free, and required for each seminar.

Hosting Organization: MSE, including Sue Ishaq, Mustafa Saifuddin, Emily Wissel, Melissa Manus, and Francisco Parada; and the University of Maine Institute of Medicine. The Microbes and Social Equity Speaker Series 2022 is supported in part by a grant from the Cultural Affairs/Distinguished Lecture Series Fund, as well as by the UMaine Institute of Medicine.


Microorganisms are critical to many aspects of biological life, including human health.  The human body is a veritable universe for microorganisms: some pass through but once, some are frequent tourists, and some spend their entire existence in the confines of our body tissues.  The collective microbial community, our microbiome, can be impacted by the details of our lifestyle, including diet, hygiene, health status, and more, but many are driven by social, economic, medical, or political constraints that restrict available choices that may impact our health.   

Access to resources is the basis for creating and resolving social equity—access to healthcare, healthy foods, a suitable living environment, and to beneficial microorganisms, but also access to personal and occupational protection to avoid exposure to infectious disease. This speaker series explores the way that microbes connect public policy, social disparities, and human health, as well as the ongoing research, education, policy, and innovation in this field.  The spring speaker series will pave the way for a symposium on “Microbes, Social Equity, and Rural Health” in summer 2022.

The 2021 series can be found here.

These seminars have passed by already, but you can check out the recordings online:

“Microbes at the nexus of environmental, biological, and social research”

Dr. Sue Ishaq, PhD

January 19, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Sue Ishaq, photo courtesy of Patrick Wine, 2021.

About the speaker: Dr. Sue Ishaq is an Assistant Professor of Animal and Veterinary Science at the University of Maine, in the School of Food and Agriculture. She received her doctorate in Animal, Nutrition and Food Science from the University of Vermont in 2015 where her graduate study focused on identifying the microbes in the rumen stomach of the moose and if they could be used to make probiotics for lambs. She held two post-doctoral positions at Montana State University, one in data analysis of host microbial communities and the other identifying the soil microbes associated with what fields under different climate change conditions. From there she held an assistant research professor position at the University of Oregon investing the microbial communities found in buildings. She established her lab at UMaine in 2019, where her research group focuses on host-associated microbial communities in animals and humans. In addition to her research and teaching on animal microbes, Dr. Ishaq is the founder of the Microbes and Social Equity working group. This group formed to examine, publicize and promote a research program on the reciprocal impact of social inequality and microbiomes, both human and environmental.

“The Human Microbiome and Health Inequities”

Dr. Katherine (Katie) Amato, PhD

January 26, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Dr. Katie Amato. Photo borrowed from Northwestern University.
Dr. Katie Amato. Photo borrowed from Northwestern University

About the speaker: Dr. Katherine (Katie) Amato is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Northwestern University. From her faculty profile page: “Katie Amato is a biological anthropologist studying the gut microbiota in the broad context of host ecology and evolution. She is particularly interested in understanding how changes in the gut microbiota impact human nutrition and health in populations around the world, especially those with limited access to nutritional resources.”

Faculty profile page.

Talk summary: The talk explores how the microbiome is likely to be a mediating pathway that translates disparities in people’s environments to disparities in health outcomes. It outlines the current state of the literature in this area and broadly suggests ways to move forward. Dr. Amato’s recent publication on this topic can be found here.

Analyzing and harnessing microbiomes from Soil to Society: Towards sustainable and equitable agricultural systems

Dr. Frank Carbonero, PhD

February 2, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Dr. Franck Carbonero. Photo borrowed from WSU faculty page.
Dr. Franck Carbonero. Photo borrowed from WSU faculty page.

About the speaker: Dr. Frank Carbonero, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at Washington State University Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.

He received his Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from Universite Joseph Fourier, in France, his Master’s of Science degree in Ecology from Universite Blaise Pascal, in France, and his Ph.D. degree in Microbiology from the University of Warwick, in the United Kingdom. After that, he was a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for three years, and has served as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Food Science at the University of Arkansas since 2013. His research program is focused on nutrition and its impact on the human and animal gut microbiome, with focus on dietary bioactives, including from berries.

Institutional Profile Page.

“Diet, Microbial Metabolites, and Cancer Disparities”

Dr. Patricia Wolf, PhD, RD

February 9, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Headshot portrait of Dr. Patricia Wolf.
Dr. Patricia Wolf. Photo courtesy of Dr. Wolf

About the speaker: Dr. Wolf completed her PhD in Nutritional Sciences with a focus on microbial sulfur metabolism at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in December 2018. During her graduate training, she simultaneously completed the Didactic Program in Dietetics and became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Since that time, she has been a postdoctoral fellow at the Cancer Education and Career Development Program NCI T32 at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research investigates microbial mechanisms of cancer health disparities related to inequitable food access and quality. To do so, she uses techniques in molecular microbiology and novel enzyme characterization to understand the metabolic capacity of the human gut microbiome. With her expertise in nutrition and dietetics, she then examines whether dietary intake shifts microbial ecology and function toward the formation of deleterious microbial metabolites contributing to cancer risk. Given that dietary behaviors are shaped by the social and structural environment, her future work will explore relationships between the neighborhood food environment and microbial metabolism in order to mitigate the inequitable burden of cancer in certain groups.

“20 important questions in microbial exposure and social equity + recent work on urban greenspace microbiomes”

Dr. Jake Robinson, PhD

Feb 23rd, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, watch the recorded talk.

A black and white portrait of Dr. Jake Robinson, who is wearing a black shirt and light sportscoat over it. Jake is outside in front of some bushes.
Dr. Jake Robinson

About the speaker: Dr. Jake Robinson is an ecologist and researcher. He recently completed a PhD at the University of Sheffield, UK. His academic interests lie at the intersection of microbial ecology, ecosystem restoration and social research. He will soon be publishing a book called Invisible Friends, which is all about our extraordinary relationship with microbes, and how they shape our lives and the world around us. 

Professional page.

“Antimicrobial Resistance: Our Next Epidemic of Inequality?”

Dr. Maya Nadimpalli, MS, PhD

March 2, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, and was not recorded.

Dr. Maya Nadimpalli. Photo courtesy of Dr. Nadimpalli.
Dr. Maya Nadimpalli. Photo courtesy of Dr. Nadimpalli.

About the speaker: Dr. Maya Nadimpalli is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Tufts University, and a core faculty member at Tufts’ Stuart B. Levy Center for the Integrated Management of Antimicrobial Resistance. She received her B.A. & Sc. in Environment from McGill University, Canada, and her M.S. and Ph.D. at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She uses genomic and epidemiological approaches to understand how exposures to food, animals, and the environment can impact human colonization and infection with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, particularly in low-resource settings. She has led research studies in rural North Carolina and in Southeast Asia, and is currently leading two studies focused on children’s health in urban informal settlements of Lima, Peru. She will be joining Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health as an Assistant Professor this May.

Institutional profile page.

“Chasing Ghosts: Race, Racism, and the Future of Microbiome Research”

Dr. Travis J. De Wolfe, PhD; Dr. Mohammed Rafi Arefin, PhD; Dr. Maria Rebolleda-Gomez, PhD; and Dr. Amber Benezra, PhD

March 9, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

About the speakers: This special seminar will feature a collaborative talk from Dr. Travis J. De Wolfe, PhD; Dr. Mohammed Rafi Arefin, PhD; Dr. Maria Rebolleda-Gomez, PhD; and Dr. Amber Benezra, PhD. This team recently published a transformative piece, “Chasing Ghosts: Race, Racism, and the Future of Microbiome Research“, and will be each discuss aspects of that.

Dr. Travis De Wolfe

Travis J. De Wolfe

Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Travis J. De Wolfe is a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research-funded Postdoctoral Fellow with the Department of Pediatrics at the University of British Columbia and BC Children’s Hospital. His research interests include Clostridioides difficile infection, colonization resistance, inflammatory bowel diseases, host-microbe interactions, and ecology of the gut microbiome.

Dr. Mohammed Rafi Arefin

Mohammed Rafi Arefin

Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Mohammed Rafi Arefin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia. His research and teaching are focused on urban environmental politics with a particular focus on sanitation, health, and environmental justice in the Middle East and North America.

Dr. Amber Benezra

Amber Benezra

Department of Science and Technology Studies, Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey, USA

Amber Benezra is an Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies at Stevens Institute of Technology. She is a sociocultural anthropologist researching how studies of the human microbiome intersect with biomedical ethics, public health/technological infrastructures, and care. In partnership with human microbial ecologists, she is developing an “anthropology of microbes” to address global health problems across disciplines.

Dr. María Rebolleda Gómez

María Rebolleda Gómez

Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of California Irvine, Irvine, California, USA

María Rebolleda Gómez is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California, Irvine. Her research explores ecological and evolutionary dynamics in model microbial communities. She is also interested in Environmental History, Philosophy, and History of Science. María was born in Mexico City.

“Intimate Exchange and Queer Ecologies”

Dr. Gabriel N. Rosenberg, PhD

March 16, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Dr. Gabriel Rosenberg, Photo borrowed from Duke University faculty page.
Dr. Gabriel Rosenberg, Photo borrowed from Duke University faculty page.

About the speaker: Dr. Gabriel N. Rosenberg, PhD is an Associate Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies and History at Duke University. He is a food/agricultural researcher, and author of “On the scene of zoonotic intimacies jungle, market, pork plant”. From his faculty profile page, “Broadly, Gabriel Rosenberg’s research investigates the historical and contemporary linkages among gender, sexuality, and the global food system. In particular, he studies spaces of agricultural production as important sites for the constitution and governance of intimacy – intimacy both between and among humans, animals, and plants.” 

Faculty profile page.

“Risk factors for colonization with antibiotic-resistant bacteria in Guatemala and East Africa”

Dr. Douglas Call, PhD

March 30, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Dr. Douglas Call. Photo courtesy of Dr. Call
Dr. Douglas Call. Photo courtesy of Dr. Call

About the speaker: Dr. Douglas Call is a Regents Professor of molecular epidemiology at the Paul G. Allen School for Global Health, and the Associate Director for Research and Graduate Education, at Washington State University. In 2014 he became a Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition for his contributions to food and water safety, particularly through molecular epidemiology of antibiotic resistant bacteria in agricultural systems. Dr. Call has published over 235 peer-reviewed papers and has ongoing antibiotic resistance research projects in the U.S., Kenya, Brazil and Guatemala with funding from NIH, USDA, and the CDC. He has consulted for the Gates Foundation and Fleming Fund regarding antibiotic resistance, and he is a member of the Board of Directors for the Washington State Academy of Science. In 2021 he received the Washington State University Sahlin Eminent Faculty Award. Dr. Call is currently serving as the chair of the Faculty Senate at Washington State University, and he is a regular columnist for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News where he frequently writes about science and science policy.

Faculty profile page.

“Decomposition as Life Politics” 

Dr. Kristina Lyons, PhD

April 6, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Dr. Kristina Lyons. Photo courtesy of Dr. Lyons
Dr. Kristina Lyons. Photo courtesy of Dr. Lyons

About the speaker: Dr. Kristina Lyons is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and with the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities at the University of Pennsylvania. She also holds affiliations with the Center for Experimental Ethnography and the Center for Latin American and Latinx Studies. Kristina’s current research is situated at the interfaces of socio-ecological conflicts, science, and legal studies in Colombia and Latin America. Her manuscript, Vital Decomposition: Soil Practitioners and Life Politics (Duke 2020), was awarded honorable mention by the Bryce Wood Book Award committee from the Latin American Studies Association. She has also collaborated on the creation of soundscapes, street performances, photographic essays, graphic novels, popular education audiovisual projects, community radio programs, digital storytelling platforms, and various forms of literary writing.

Professional page.

Talk summary: How does attention to and stewardship of soils point to alternative frameworks for living and dying? Dr. Lyons explores the way life strives to flourish in the face of violence, criminalization, and poisoning produced by militarized, growth-oriented development in the midst of the U.S.-Colombia war on drugs.

Deconstructing the individual: how science can materially advance using queer and feminist theory

Dr. Patricia Kaishian, PhD

April 13, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Dr. Patricia Kaishian. Photo courtesy of Dr. Kaishian.
Dr. Patricia Kaishian. Photo courtesy of Dr. Kaishian.

About the speaker: Dr. Patricia Kaishian is a visiting professor of Biology at Bard College in NY. Her scientific research is focused on the taxonomy of Laboulbeniales fungi, fungal biodiversity, and exploration of the use of certain fungi as potential indicators of ecosystem health. Beyond more traditional scientific research, Patricia works in the realms of philosophy of science, feminist bioscience, ecofeminism and queer theory, exploring how mycology and other scientific disciplines are situated in and informed by our sociopolitical landscape. Her publication, The science underground: mycology as a queer discipline, appears in the journal Catalyst: Feminism, Theory & Technoscience. Patricia is also a founding member of the International Congress of Armenian Mycologists (ICAM), a research organization comprised of ethnically Armenian mycologists who seek to simultaneously advance mycological science and Armenian sovereignty and liberation.

Professional site.

This talk will explore the field of mycology and the mycobiome through a theoretical framework rooted in queer and feminist theories, as well as philosophy of science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge. The goal is to challenge, push, and explore central tenets of institutional science, and to socially and historically situate current research dilemmas in mycology and microbiome studies. By excavating and laying bare ingrained, systemic biases in scientific institutions, we can attempt to disarm fallacious assertions of “purity” in science and better understand bodies at various scales.

“Microbiomes and climate change at the intersection of human and ecosystem health in the North”

Dr. Catherine Girard, PhD

April 20, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Portrait photo of Dr. Catherine Girard. Photo courtesy of Dr. Girard.
Dr. Catherine Girard, Photo courtesy of Dr. Girard.

Dr. Catherine Girard is an Associate Professor at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, where she works on the response of microbiomes to climate change in the Arctic. In the past, she has worked on the human microbiome and how it is shaped by tradition, culture and global warming. She now explores how ice-dwelling microbes are responding to change, from a conservation and ecosystem service perspective. She is involved in collaborative research with partners from the Inuit Nunangat, and views microbiomes as part of our heritage.

Professional page.

“What Connects Us: stories of working across difference with humans and microbes”

Dr. Maya Hey, PhD

April 27, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Dr. Maya Hey. Photo courtesy of Dr. Hey
Dr. Maya Hey. Photo courtesy of Dr. Hey

About the speaker: Dr. Maya Hey is a postdoctoral researcher with the Future Organisms project as part of an international trans-disciplinary team investigating Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). She brings a humanities and social science perspective to the life sciences, calling upon feminist, intersectional, and multispecies approaches to map out human response-ability in a more-than-human world. She is vested in questions related to fermentation, particularly as they relate to discourses of health, the rhetoric of microbiomes, and how we come to know microbial life.”

Professional page.

Talk summary: What connects us across different scales of life? This talk examines three case studies—on fermentation, conversation, and innovation—to better understand how micro-organisms affect macro-cultures and vice-versa, with emphasis on working with difference instead of resolving them. 

“It’s about time: ecological and eco-evolutionary dynamics across the scales”

Dr. Liat Shenhav, PhD

May 4, 2022, 12:00 – 13:00 EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Dr. Liat Shenhav. Photo borrowed from LinkedIN.

About the speaker: Dr. Liat Shenhav is an independent research fellow at the Center for Studies in Physics and Biology at the Rockefeller University. Prior to that, Liat received a B.Sc. and. M.Sc. in Mathematics and Statistics from Tel-Aviv University, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science from University of California, Los Angeles. Liat’s research focuses on developing computational methods for studying spatiotemporal dynamics of complex ecosystems and their contribution to human health and disease.

About the talk: Complex microbial communities play an important role across many domains of life, from the female reproductive tract, through the oceans, to the plant rhizosphere. The study of these communities offers great opportunities for biological discovery, due to the ease of their measurement, the ability to perturb them, and their rapidly evolving nature. Yet, their complex composition, dynamic nature, and intricate interactions with multiple other systems, make it difficult to extract robust and reproducible patterns from these ecosystems. To uncover their latent properties, I develop models that combine longitudinal data analysis and statistical learning, and which draw from principles of community ecology, complexity theory and evolution. 

I will briefly present methods for decomposition of microbial dynamics at an ecological scale (Shenhav et al., Nature Methods 2019; Martino & Shenhav et al., Nature Biotechnology). Using these methods we found significant differences in the trajectories of the infant microbiome in the first years of life as a function of early life exposures, namely mode of delivery and breastfeeding. I will then show how incorporating eco-evolutionary considerations allowed us to detect signals of purifying selection across ecosystems. I will demonstrate how interactions between evolution and ecology played a vital role in shaping microbial communities and the standard genetics code (Shenhav & Zeevi, Science 2020).

Inspired by these discoveries, I am currently expanding the scope beyond the microbiome, modeling multi-layered data on human milk composition. I will present results from an ongoing study in which I am building integrative models of nasal, gut and milk microbiota, combined with human milk components, to predict infant respiratory health. I found that the temporal dynamics of microbiota in the first year of life, mediated by milk composition, predict the development of chronic respiratory disease later in childhood. These models, designed to identify robust spatiotemporal patterns, would help us better understand the nature and impact of complex ecosystems like the microbiome and human milk from the time of formation and throughout life.

Institutional profile page.

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