MSE speaker series, spring 2023

“The Microbes and Social Equity Speaker Series 2023”

Spring 2023; Jan 18 – May 3, Wednesdays from 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST.

Presented over Zoom.

This series is concluded and registration is closed, but you can watch the recordings via the links below.

Hosting Organizations: MSE and the University of Maine Institute of Medicine, with support from the UMaine Cultural Affairs/Distinguished Lecture Committee.


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. 

You can find recordings from the 2021 series and the 2022 series.

In 2023, we’ll be mixing up the lineup by featuring speakers on a related theme for a few weeks in a row, then inviting them back for a panel discussion. Please note, the talks may be recorded but the panel discussions will not be.

Gut microbiome, nutrition, and food security

Theme organized by Sue Ishaq

“Broccoli Sprout Bioactives and Gut Microbiota: A Dietary Approach for Prevention and Management of Inflammatory Bowel Disease”

Dr. Yanyan Li, PhD

January 18, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed, view the recording.

Headshot of Dr. Yanyan Li

Dr. Li is an Assistant Professor at the University of Maine. She received her PhD degree in Nutrition and Food Science from Ohio State University. She has been dedicating herself to studying the mechanisms of diet-derived bioactives in protecting against disease process and harnessing the gained knowledge to develop dietary approaches for disease prevention and management for more than a decade. Since 2016, she has been focusing on the interactions between dietary components, in particular glucosinolates from cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and broccoli sprouts, and gut microbiota, aiming to develop a combined approach for inflammatory bowel disease. Her current research projects are funded by NIH/NIDDK, USDA/NIFA AFRI Foundational Program, and nutrition research programs of private foundations.

Added by Sue: For the past few years, Yanyan and her colleagues have also included the Ishaq Lab, and has led to a rewarding and productive collaboration which has resulted in several recent and forthcoming publications, funding awards, and students trained.

“Exploring Health Determinants, Gut Microbiome, and Health Outcomes in Immigrants”

Dr. Dany Fanfan, Ph.D., MSN, RN

January 25, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed, watch the recording.

Headshot of Dr. Dany Fanfan

Dr. Dany Fanfan is an Assistant Professor at the University of Florida (UF) College of Nursing. Before becoming a faculty, she completed a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing at Florida International University, Master’s and Doctoral degrees in Nursing at the University of South Florida, and a post-doctoral fellowship at UF focused on mental health research with and for underrepresented populations (e.g., Latino/Haitian immigrant farmworkers, rural Latino/LGBTQ+ adolescents) using a community-based participatory research approach and social network analysis. She teaches and engages in
multidisciplinary mixed-methods research dedicated to advancing the science and practice of reducing mental health disparities among minoritized immigrants by exploring the underlying biobehavioral, cultural, and psychosocial mechanisms of distress symptoms. With support from an NIH K23 career development award, she is now incorporating microbial metagenomics and bioinformatics methods in her research by examining the associations between post-migration social determinants of health, gut microbiome, and psychological distress among recent Haitian immigrants. The long- term goal of her interdisciplinary translational program of research is to identify and address the conditions that create and sustain health disparities in minoritized populations as well as develop and test culturally responsive interventions that target social, behavioral, and biological determinants of health to improve long-term health outcomes, reduce behavioral and mental health disparities, and increase health equity.

“Personalized nutrition and the human gut microbiome”

Dr. Sean Gibbons, PhD

February 1, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Headshot of Dr. Sean Gibbons.

Dr. Sean Gibbons is an Associate Professor at the Institute for Systems Biology, a non-profit research consortium. His lab develops computational and experimental tools for exploring and manipulating host-microbe systems.

Added by Sue: The work from Sean’s group and collaborators has been reshaping the way that host microbial researchers approach their work, by revealing trends through large metanalyses and novel perspectives on using data. Their most recent work has evaluated host-microbial interactions, metabolites, and health.

For the last three years, Sean’s lab has hosted the ISB Virtual Microbiome Series, which is freely available and attracts several thousand participants. The series includes a two day workshop that teaches data analysis skills, and a day-long symposium featuring discussions of current discoveries and conceptualizes the future of microbiome research.

Finally, Sean and his research group have been making science a more welcoming and inclusive place.

Panel discussion on Gut microbiome, nutrition, and food security

February 8, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed, and was not recorded.

This week, we’ll be bringing all of our Theme 1 speakers back to engage in a panel discussion together on the gut microbiome. Panel will be hosted by Sue Ishaq.

Please note, this session will only be featured live in real-time and will not be recorded.

Prenatal to early-life microbes and health

Theme organized by Emily Wissel.

“The maternal microbiota and offspring development: Towards a translational systems approach in maternal-child health.”

Dr. Eldin Jašarević, PhD.

February 15, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed, watch the recording.

Eldin (he/him) is an Assistant Professor in the Departments of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and Computational and Systems Biology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He is also Primary Investigator at Magee-Womens Research Institute. Eldin
received a PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Missouri and the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders studying the combined effects of maternal stress and diet on sex-specific brain development in mice. Eldin completed his postdoctoral training in
the laboratory of Dr. Tracy Bale at the University of Pennsylvania and University of Maryland School of Medicine. His postdoc work showed that lifetime experiences influence the composition and function of maternal microbiome, and vertical transmission of these communities is causally linked to poor health outcomes in offspring. Current research interests include mining the human maternal microbiota for novel functions that contribute to offspring development, and ultimately gaining a better understanding of the ways in which the prenatal
environment shapes the postnatal response to the external microbial world. For this work, Eldin has been selected as a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and is the recipient of a National Research Service Award from NIMH, and a Research Scientist Development Award from NIDDK.

“Intersecting breastmilk and microbiome science with the complexity of working with humans in a clinical context”

Dr. Merilee Brockway, PhD RN IBCLC

February 22, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Dr. Merilee Brockway is a PhD prepared nurse and International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) with expertise in maternal-child health, infant feeding, and patient engagement. She completed my PhD in nursing at the University of Calgary, examining maternal breastfeeding self-efficacy and infant feeding outcomes in moderate and late preterm infants. She also completed a three year post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Manitoba in Dr. Meghan Azad’s THRIVE Discovery Lab, exploring clinical applications of donor human milk for preterm infants. As an Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary, her program of research examines the use of human milk as a clinical intervention to mitigate early life perturbations to the infant microbiome.  

“The vaginal microbiome: key for women’s health & healthy newborns.”

Dr. Sarah Lebeer, PhD.

March 1, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Dr. Sarah Lebeer is a research professor at the Department of Bioscience Engineering of the University of Antwerp, Belgium. She has studied bioscience engineering, with a specialisation in cell and gene biotechnology and food & health and obtained her Master’s degree at KU Leuven (Belgium) in 2004. In 2008, she obtained a PhD degree in Bioscience Engineering with a topic on probiotics and
inflammatory bowel diseases (KU Leuven). After a postdoc on the interaction between lactobacilli, viruses and mucosal immunology, Sarah was offered a tenure track position in applied microbiology
and biotechnology at the Department of Bioscience Engineering of the University of Antwerp in Nov 2011. In 2020, Sarah obtained an ERC StG Grant (Lacto-Be) that enables her to gain in-depth knowledge of the evolutionary history and ecology of lactobacilli. Within this ERC project, Sarah has launched the Isala citizen-science project to gain new insights in the ecology and role of vaginal lactobacilli for women’s health, but also to actively involve women to contribute with ideas on how to improve vaginal health and break some taboos together ( This project has won the
communication award from the Young Academy and Royal Academy of Science KVAB in 2021.

Panel discussion on Prenatal to early-life microbes and health

March 8, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed and was not recorded.

This week, we’ll be bringing all of our Theme 2 speakers back to engage in a panel discussion together on the microbiome in early life. Panel will be hosted by Emily Wissel.

Please note, this session will only be featured live in real-time and will not be recorded.

The environment, microbes, and us

Anthropology Theme organized by Katherine Daiy and Kieran O’Doherty, and Environmental Theme organized by Mallory Choudoir, Mustafa Saifuddin, and Hannah Holland-Moritz.

“Invisible Friends: How Microbes Shape Our Lives and the World Around Us”

Dr. Jake Robinson, PhD.

March 15, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Headshot of Dr. Jake Robinson

Dr. Robinson is a microbial ecologist based in the UK (soon to be Australia). In 2021, he received a PhD from the University of Sheffield. He is passionate about researching microbes, ecosystems, social equity issues and the connections between them, and at the same time, he is keen to develop ways to conserve and restore nature. Invisible Friends is his first book. This book counters the prevailing narrative of microbes as the bane of society, along the way providing much-needed clarity on the overwhelmingly beneficial role they play. Discover how the microbiome is highly relevant to environmental and social equity issues while there’s also discussion about how microbes may influence our decisions; even the way we think about how we think may need to be revisited. Invisible Friends introduces the reader to a vast, pullulating cohort of minute life – friends you never knew you had! Jake has worked on several publications with the MSE Working Group founder Dr Sue Ishaq and even interviewed her for the Microbes and Social Equity chapter in Invisible Friends.

“Microbiome Research with the Yanomami”

David Good, University of Guelph

March 22, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

David Good

David Good is a PhD student in microbiology at the University of Guelph, Ontario. His general research goal is characterizing the structural and functional microbial diversity of his Yanomami family, the Irokae-teri, located in the Amazon rainforest of Venezuela. They are of great interest in the microbiome field since the Irokae-teri live fully immersed in the rainforest environment and subsist by an active lifestyle of hunting-gathering and small-scale gardening. Furthermore, their relative isolation deep in the Amazon limits their exposure to microbiome stressors such as antibiotics, highly refined and processed foods, industrial toxins and pollutants, food preservatives, etc. David will discuss this unique and rare opportunity to advance our understanding of the human microbiome of a community largely unperturbed by westernization, while building global awareness on the importance of protecting these few remaining isolated indigenous societies. However, such research brings numerous challenges surrounding bioethics. David hopes to build dialogue around going beyond simple compliance in microbiome research, and how the Yanomami have the right to self-determination and harness their bioeconomic potential to protect their home.

Photo sourced from:

Surprise Panel discussion with MSE members and speakers!

March 29, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 1:00 PM EST. Register for the Zoom link here.

This week, we’ll be hosting a panel with MSE members and speakers! We needed to accommodate a change in the schedule, and decided to have some fun with it. Join us to chat about our favorite microbiome facts, what we think pressing issues are in research, and more!

“The human-valued interest in microbiome science is the distillation of human-environmental interactions”

Dr. Stephanie Schnorr, PhD.

April 5, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Dr. Schnorr is a PostDoctorial Researcher at the University of Vienna.

I am formally trained as a biological anthropologist and human biologist, and pursued research on the topics of human diet in human evolutionary ecology. I studied in particular the capacity for digesting plant material from wild foods, and how this is facilitated by both technology and the gut microbiome, as an auxiliary adaptative mechanisms in human health. I studied also ancient microbiomes from coprolite material, and microbial mutualisms in arthropod and environmental contexts. Extending from my interest in brain growth and nutrition acquisition traits among humans, I picked up the inquiry on environmental provisioning of essential lipids from microbiomes. I transitioned to microbial ecology in pursuit of answers to help reconcile the apparent discontinuity between supply and demand of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in terrestrial ecosystems, driven by prior experience working in human evolutionary theory, and by present perspectives of ecological networks.

Image sourced from:

“Anthropology, Microbiomes, and Antimicrobial Resistance”

Dr. Cecil Lewis, PhD.

April 12, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Dr. Cecil Lewis is a Professor and biological and interdisciplinary scientist based at the University of Oklahoma. His primary research focus is the microbiome and community-engaged research, with current work that investigates ancient and contemporary human metabolomes, pathogen evolution, the impact of colonialism on the microbiome and metabolome, along with progressive community-based partnerships across the Americas and Africa. His work is supported by the NSF and NIH. He is the founder and director of Laboratories of Molecular Anthropology and Microbiome Research (LMAMR).

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Soil health – towards a ‘microbial agriculture’?

Dr. Anna Krzywoszynska, PhD. and Paula Palanco Lopez

April 19, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Abstract: Soils have long been considered primarily through a physico-chemical lens in agriculture and environmental management. Today, however, we are observing a shift towards ecological perspectives, and a growing interest from managing soil quality to managing soil health. What does it mean, however, to know and manage soils as living microbial ecosystems, and what are the consequences of a ‘soil health’ paradigm for the future of agriculture? In this presentation, Dr Krzywoszynska will reflect on the relevance of microbial knowledges and ethics in the emerging regenerative agriculture movement, and in biodiversity governance, while her PhD student Paula Palanco Lopez will reflect on the importance of understanding ‘soil health’ in its own terms, beyond anthropocentric and utilitarian framings.

Dr. Anna Krzywoszynska

Dr. Anna Krzywoszynska is an Associate Professor in Anthropology at the University of Oulu, and a research leader in the Biodiverse Anthropocenes programme (Anna Krzywoszynska | University of Oulu). She is an interdisciplinary environmental social scientist with expertise in agricultural and environmental knowledge, more-than-human research, and public participation in science. Her current research interests include human-soil relations and knowledge systems, the co-production of soil knowledge between science and society, and the role of local food systems in achieving socio-environmental justice.

Paula Palanco

Paula Palanco is a medical anthropologist with a background in Development Studies and Communication. She has completed an Advanced Masters in Cultural Anthropology and Development Studies in KULeuven (Belgium) and worked for the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), the University of Oxford, and Imperial College London. Paula has carried out research in different topics such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR), air monitoring and cholera epidemics. Currently, she is a PhD candidate in the University of Oulu (Finland), researching the connection between the loss of soil biodiversity and AMR.

Panel Discussion on the Soil and Microbial Conservation

April 26, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed and was not recorded.

This week, we’ll be engaging in a panel discussion together on the importance of environmental microbiomes and specifically on soil conservation. Featuring Dr. Kendra Klein, Deputy Director for Science at Friends of the Earth, and Dr. James Lendemer, Staff Lichenologist and Associate Curator at the Institute of Systematic Botany at the New York Botanical Garden

Panel will be hosted by Mallory Choudoir, Mustafa Saifuddin, and Hannah Holland-Moritz.

Please note, this session will only be featured live in real-time and will not be recorded.

Rescheduled talk for May 3

“Religion, Race and the Microbe: Theological Analysis of Public Health Resistance in the Pandemicine”

Dr. Aminah Al-Attas Bradford, PhD.

May 3, 2023; Wednesday,11:00 AM – 12:00 PM EST. This event has passed, watch the recording here.

Dr. Bradford is a research scholar in NC State’s Public Science Lab for Ecology, Evolution and Biodiversity of Humans and Food where she draws together interdisciplinary engagement of microbes, exploring fermentation, probiotic health and pathogens.  Dr. Bradford is also a college Chaplain at Salem Women’s College, and Director of the Center for Contemporary Practice and Wellbeing. Working at the intersections of religion, microbiology, ecology and race, Dr. Bradford’s research investigates the historical entanglement of disease theories, public health strategy, Christian thought, and coloniality to cultivate ecological wisdom, scientific engagement and the pursuit of environmental justice in religious contexts. She asks questions like, how have the historical entanglement of epidemiology, coloniality and Christian teaching contributed to the disease of both body and planet, the disproportionate effects of which are born by black and brown communities? How has demonizing the microbe paved the way for oppression of those deemed sub-human? And how might microbiome science reform Christian thought that often disrupts engagement of science and is complicit in exploitative and exclusionary ways of being?

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