Professor Margaret J. McFall-Ngai – University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA
SPONSOR: NZ Microbiological Society
Professor Margaret McFall-Ngai is currently Director of the Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC), University of Hawaii at Manoa and a Professor at PBRC’s Kewalo Marine Laboratory. Her laboratory studies two areas: 1) the role of beneficial bacteria in health using the squid-vibrio model; 2) the biochemical and molecular ‘design’ of tissues that interact with light. In addition, she has been heavily involved in promoting microbiology as the cornerstone of the field of biology. Prof. McFall-Ngai also currently holds emeritus status at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the positions of AD White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University. She was recently (2011-2013) a Moore Scholar at California Institute of Technology. Prof. McFall-Ngai has been a Guggenheim fellow, and is a member of the American Academy of Microbiology (2002), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2011), and the National Academy of Sciences (2014).
Professor Dan Tawfik – Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel
SUPPORTED by: Biochemistry Department Otago
Professor Tawfik’s research seeks to understand how proteins evolve. His experimental work lies at the interface of chemistry, biology and microbiology. He developed a range of experimental systems that reproduce protein evolution in the laboratory and in real time. His works address protein structure, function and evolution, including how the very first proteins emerged ca. 3.8 billion years ago. Knowledge derived from the reconstruction of past evolutionary events enables his group to engineer new enzymes with tailor-made properties, for a various applications, e.g. nerve agent detoxification or improved crop yields. Prof. Tawfik joined the Weizmann Institute faculty in 2001, and holds the Nella and Leon Benoziyo Professional Chair. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Sir Charles Clore Prize, the Weizmann Institute’s highest honour for a newly-appointed senior scientist, the Wolgin Prize, and the Haim Weizmann Prize by the City of Tel-Aviv, and is an elected member of The European Molecular Biology Organization.
Professor Ariane Briegel – Leiden University, Netherlands
Professor Briegal’s research is a leader in electron cryotomography and bacterial chemotaxis. She is interested in understanding how microbes sense and respond to their environment. How are the cells able to actively seek out their preferred environmental niches, how can they effectively evade toxins and predators, and how can they adapt to thrive in changing environments? In order to gain insight into the structure and function of the molecular complexes involved in these behaviors, the Briegel lab use electron cryotomography (ECT). This technique allows her group to directly study microbes in their native state at resolutions capable of visualizing individual proteins.
Professor Sylvain Moineau – Université Laval, Québec, Canada
SPONSOR: NZ Microbiological Society
Professor Sylvain Moineau is based in the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Bioinformatics at Université Laval and holds the Canada Research Chair in Bacteriophages (2011-2018). He curates the world’s largest collection of phages (www.phage.ulaval.ca). His research group combines omics data (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics) and structural biology, to understand interactions between phages and bacteria. New strategies are also developed to control phages in dairy fermentations. He has characterized phage resistance mechanisms, including landmark discoveries on CRISPR-Cas systems that are at the heart of current genome-editing technologies. He has been ranked amongst the most cited and influential microbiologists in the world for the past four years.
Dr Kathryn Holt – University of Melbourne, Australia
SPONSOR: Webster Centre
Kat is a NHMRC Career Development Fellow in the University of Melbourne’s Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology and Bio21 Institute. She has a BA/BSc majoring in Biochemistry, Applied Statistics and Philosophy; a Master of Epidemiology; and a PhD in Molecular Biology from the University of Cambridge and Sanger Institute. Kat’s research focus is microbial genomics, focusing on sequencing-based approaches to understanding bacterial pathogens and infectious disease, particularly typhoid, dysentery and hospital associated infections.
Professor Christopher Rao – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, USA
Professor Rao’s group investigates the complex mechanisms that enable bacteria to sense and respond to their environment. Examples of systems studied in our lab include nutrient sensing, foraging, antibiotic resistance, stress to aromatic compounds, and host colonization (in the context of infectious diseases). The ulitmate goal in studying these systems is not solely to advance biology but ultimately to reprogram this behavior for the treatment of disease and productions of novel chemicals.
Professor Edward G. Ruby – Pacific Biosciences Research Center, University of Hawaii-Manoa, USA
Professor Ruby’s doctoral training was at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD, with postdoctorals at Harvard, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and UCLA. He joined the faculty at USC, and entered into a collaboration with Prof. Margaret McFall-Ngai to develop the Vibrio fischeri-sepiolid squid light-organ association as a model for beneficial bacteria-host interactions. After eleven years at UW Madison, Prof. Ruby moved to the University of Hawaii in 2015. His lab analyzes how signaling cascades and rhythmic nutrient manipulation underlie symbiotic persistence in the host, and uses new imaging approaches, and comparative and functional genomics to discover principles controlling population-level interactions among symbionts.
Professor Rosie Bradshaw – Institute of Fundamental Science, Massey University, New Zealand
Professor Bradshaw’s main research focus is the application of molecular and comparative genomics tools to study how fungi interact with plants. Her group is interested in plant pathogens, endophytes, forest pathology, mycotoxins, fungal gene clusters and biocontrol. As part of an initiative by the Dothideomycete Comparative Genomics Consortium and the Joint Genome Institute, she was PI for the project to sequence the genome of the pine needle pathogen Dothistroma septosporum. The Bradshaw laboratory’s research interests also include Phytophthora species that are pathogens of forest trees. A major initiative to study the kauri dieback pathogen Phytophthora agathidicida is in progress, using effector biology to help determine the best way to achieve durable resistance of kauri in the forest.
Dr Carla Meledandri – Department of Chemistry, University of Otago, New Zealand
SUPPORTED by: Sir John Walsh Institute
Our research is directed toward the design, synthesis, and characterization of functional nanoscale materials. The interest in nanoscale materials lies in the fact that their size, shape, and composition can dramatically affect their physical and chemical properties. This phenomenon can be exploited in order to develop new materials with tunable properties for a broad range of applications. Our interests encompass both fundamental and applied aspects of nanomaterials research. Current projects are interdisciplinary, combining chemistry, materials science, physics, and biological sciences in order to develop new materials with potential application in biomedicine and for use as nanoswitches.
Associate Professor Kevin Shyong-Wei Tan – Department of Microbiology and Immunology, National University of Singapore, Singapore
SPONSOR: Microbiome Otago
He is also Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies and Head, Innovation in Graduate Studies. His curiosity for parasites originated from his graduate student days at NUS and blossomed during his postdoctoral stint at The Rockefeller University, New York City. He is relieved to be awarded tenure in 2011, and can now spend more time on social issues, such as public science education. Kevin’s research interests are in two broad areas: (1) understanding how parasites commit suicide and exploiting such knowledge to trigger death mechanisms as an anti-parasite strategy. His team has also come up with new ways to find drugs that overcome resistance. He hopes that the research from his team would accelerate the finding of new cures for parasitic diseases. (2) understanding host-parasite interactions from an immunological and microbiome perspective. His current projects seek to investigate the dysbiotic potential of parasite infection of the gut, and to gain mechanistic insights into this process using modern -omic technologies.
Professor Joel Mackay – School of Life and Environmental Sciences, The University of Sydney, Australia
SPONSOR: Genetics Otago
The primary focus of the Mackay group is to understand protein function at the molecular level, with a particular emphasis on three areas:
1. the role and nature of protein-protein interactions in the control of gene expression,
2. the structural and functional diversity of zinc-binding domains, and
3. the design of new proteins with tailored functions.
Experimental approaches range from molecular and cell biology and biochemistry through to biophysical methods. High-quality physical infrastructure is available to support this work, including NMR spectrometers (600 and 800 MHz with cryosystems), X-ray crystallography, CD, analytical ultracentrifugation, Biacore, IT/DSC instruments, Nanotemper microscale thermophoresis, multi-angle laser light scattering, mass spectrometry and cell culture and fermentation facilities.
Dr Jodie M Johnston – School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, University of Canterbury, New Zealand
Jodie M Johnston currently works as a Senior Lecturer in Chemical Biology at the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand. Jodie does research in Structural Biology, Chemical Biology, Catalysis and Biochemistry.
Dr Emily Parke – Faculty of Arts, University of Auckland, New Zealand
I am a philosopher at the University of Auckland with a mixed background in philosophy and biology. I grew up in Seattle, got my BA at Reed College, spent four years in Italy working for a synthetic biology company, and completed my PhD at the University of Pennsylvania. My research addresses philosophical questions about scientific inquiry and methodology. One central theme I focus on is how different methodologies (like experiments, models, and computer simulations) work together to generate scientific knowledge. Another is how studying microbes, and even simpler biological systems, shapes our knowledge of living things in general and of life itself. I pursue these interests in a variety of projects spanning the philosophy of biology, philosophy of science, history of science, and bioethics, concentrating especially on experimental microbial evolution and areas of inquiry that challenge our ideas about life and its simplest forms (like synthetic biology, astrobiology, artificial life, and research on the origin of life). I am an executive member of Te Ao Mārama—Centre for Fundamental Inquiry, a new research center in the Faculty of Science at the University of Auckland focusing on fundamental questions about life and the universe. I am also coordinating a national panel advising on social and ethical issues in invasive species management in New Zealand.
Dr Richard Kingston – Faculty of Science, University of Auckland, New Zealand
Richard Kingston is a Senior Lecturer in Structural Biology and has been on the Auckland Faculty since 2005. He obtained his PhD in Biochemistry from Massey University, and was a postdoctoral fellow at Purdue University, and the University of Oregon, before returning to New Zealand.
Dr Barry Smith – Lakes District Health Board, Rotorua, New Zealand
Barry Smith (Te Rarawa/Ngāti Kahu), has a PhD in sociology and degrees in chemistry, statistics and music and works as a Population Health Analyst at the Lakes District Health Board. His key interests are in health inequality, health ethics and data interpretation. He is involved with the Health Research Council of New Zealand supported research on attitudes of Māori to genomic research and biobanking and has just completed a 3-year Marsden Fund supported project on ethics review. Barry chairs the HRC Ethics Committee, sits on a number of its science assessing committees, the Middlemore Hospital Biobank Governance Committee, the Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology (ACART), the MBIE Science Challenge Assessment Panels, the NZ Ethics Committee, the Podiatrist Board of NZ and a number of university and government academic and policy advisory groups. He contributes to courses run by the Otago University Bioethics Centre and teaches on Victoria University’s postgraduate Diploma of Clinical Research. Barry is a ‘gigging’ classical and jazz guitarist who received the QSM in 2008 for his contribution to both ethics and the performing arts.
Professor Marilyn Anderson – Institute of Molecular Sciences, La Trobe University, Australia
SPONSORS: AgResearch & Massey University
Marilyn Anderson is a Professor in Biochemistry at La Trobe University. Her work is focused on defence molecules produced by plants for protection against insect pests and fungal pathogens. Research spans from basic work on the structure, function and mechanism of action of these molecules, to the practical application of creating transgenic crop plants that are protected from predation and disease. This practical application is being developed within the company Hexima Ltd (www.Hexima.com.au ).
Professor Emily Parker – Ferrier Research Institute, Victoria University of Wellington
Emily received her PhD in Biological Chemistry at University of Cambridge in 1996 and joined the Ferrier Research Institute in June 2017 to lead the Chemical Biology Research Group. She is a Principal Investigator and on the management committee of the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery which harnesses and links New Zealand’s outstanding expertise in biomedical research to develop cutting-edge drugs and vaccines, tools for early diagnosis and prevention, and new models of disease. The research group focuses on the chemistry and biochemistry of enzyme-catalysed reactions, with the broad aim of aiding the development of new treatments for diseases and using the natural biosynthetic machinery for the efficient generation of valuable products. Using a variety of computational and experimental approaches her team has also studied the molecular details of communication networks in proteins. Her current projects include developing new, more potent inhibitors that have potential as anti-tuberculosis drug, and new treatments for meningitis
Professor Yanli Wang – Institute of BioPhysics, Chinese Academy of Science
SUPPORTED by: NZ Microbiological Society
Yanli is a professor in Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and a HHMI International Research Scholar. Prof. She completed her PhD from University of Science and Technology of China and postdoctoral studies from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Prof. Wang’s group interests are in understanding how small regulatory RNA or DNA mediates prokaryotic defense against invasion by foreign nucleic acids. The main focus of her work is to systematically demonstrate the mechanisms of the CRISPR-Cas system, and Ago protein-mediated DNA interference.