Microbes and Michigan: Long history & promising future

October 22, 2015  //  FOUND IN: Announcements, Our Employees,

Frederick Novy, first chair of microbiology at U-M

Rich history of microbiology research celebrated today with Pres. Schlissel & others

For more than 120 years, U-M has been a hotbed of research on microscopic organisms that can kill us, sicken us – or help us.

Today, in a ceremony and symposium at the Medical School, scientists and others will celebrate that rich history. They’ll also dedicate a plaque that will forever preserve it for all to see.

Full information is at http://umhealth.me/M-in-M.

The reason for the celebration: U-M has been named a Milestones in Microbiology site by the American Society for Microbiology, one of only 11 in the nation.

ASM representatives are on campus to present that honor, and to take part in a multi-day celebration of U-M’s past and current role in understanding and fighting diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and other microbes.

An 1899 book on bacteriology written by Frederick Novy, the first chair of the department

An 1899 book on bacteriology written by Frederick Novy, the first chair of the department

The Department of Microbiology and Immunology has more than 40 faculty studying microbial physiology, genetics, pathogenicity and immunity, and training the next generation of innovators in these fields. Its faculty are key to the Medical School’s Host Microbiome Initiative.

Thursday’s events

The celebration begins Thursday at 9:15 a.m. in the North Lecture Hall of MedSci II.

Before the plaque presentation at 10 a.m., there will be a talk about the pioneering first chair of the department, Frederick G. Novy (1864-1957), who studied everything from spirochetes to syphilis.

Professor Powel Kazanjian, M.D., Ph.D., has studied Novy’s letters, lab notebooks and lecture notes to create a perspective on Novy’s work as one of the nation’s first bacteriologists. More information.

A picture of the Physics and Hygiene Building, where the department was first housed

A picture of the Physics and Hygiene Building, where the department was first housed

U-M President Mark Schlissel, who holds a faculty appointment in the department, will be on hand for the plaque presentation, as will ASM leaders.

Moselio Schaechter, Ph.D., past president of the ASM, says U-M “embodies a continued history of exceptional scientific progress in microbiology. By honoring the location, the ASM honors the outstanding scientists who for long carried out their investigations here.”

A portrait of Victor Vaughn, a key early figure in microbiology at U-M

A portrait of Victor Vaughn, a key early figure in microbiology at U-M

History made here

Other notable scientists associated with the Department throughout its history include:

  • Victor Vaughan (1851-1929), who applied biochemical methods to identify putrefactive bacteria in food products, leading to significantly reduced incidence of “ptomaine poisoning” in Michigan and beyond;
  • Paul De Kruif (1890-1971), whose book, Microbe Hunters, exploring the lives and contributions of 11 “giants” in the field of microbiology, influenced many young people from later generations to enter the fields of science and medicine;
  • Rolf Freter (1926-2009), who studied complex relationships among the gut microbiome, gastrointestinal pathogens and the mucosal immune system; and
  • Frederick C. Neidhardt (1931- ) who applied powerful genomic and proteomic approaches to increase understanding of the physiological responses of bacteria to environmental stress, and who also conceived and edited the landmark treatise Escherichia coli and Salmonella (EcoSal).
A brass rack with tubes used to culture bacteria

A brass rack with tubes used to culture bacteria

Harry Mobley, Ph.D., current Frederick G. Novy Distinguished University Professor & chair of the department, helped nominate U-M for the ASM honor.

He will be among those interviewed for the popular “This Week in Microbiology” podcast after the plaque presentation, along with other faculty.

Thursday’s event also features the Neidhardt-Freter Symposium, featuring prominent guest lecturers, from noon to 2:30 in the Minor J. Coon Lecture Hall, 3330 Med Sci I.

The celebration continues

The “This Week in Virology” podcast will also be taped at U-M, on Friday morning.

On Saturday, the celebration continues as the ASM Michigan Branch will hold its Fall Meeting at the Michigan Union.

A portrait of Novy

A portrait of Novy

For a full schedule of the three-day observation of Milestones in Microbiology event, see http://umhealth.me/M-in-M   

Previously designated Milestones in Microbiology sites include the Waksman Laboratory at Rutgers University; Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey, California; the site of the University of Pennsylvania Laboratory of Hygiene; Scripps Institution of Oceanography; the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine; Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; the Microbial Diversity Course at Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole; Storrs Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of Connecticut; the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Department of Bacteriology; and The Rockefeller University.

For more information on these sites, visit www.asm.org/milestones-in-microbiology 

Website: http://umhealth.me/M-in-M

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