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Steve Chaplin
University Communications

Last modified: Monday, September 9, 2013

Studying squid and a bacteria, Wood lecturer to tell story of human interaction with other life

Sept. 9, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - Award-winning microbiologist Margaret McFall-Ngai, an expert on host interactions with rare bacteria, on Wednesday will present the 2013 Joan Wood Lecture. The lecture, open to the public, is part of a series designed to provide a forum for undergraduates to interact with women in science-related careers.


Margaret McFall-Ngai

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McFall-Ngai is a past Guggenheim fellow and Keck and Rockefeller foundations grant award winner who is now a professor of medical microbiology and immunology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A former Outstanding Junior Faculty awardee at the University of Southern California, she is also the Gordon and Betty Moore Visiting Professor at California Institute of Technology and the A.D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University.

Her work focuses generally on host-bacterial symbiosis and the design of tissues that interact with light, relying specifically on her study of the symbiotic relationship between squid and a genus of bacteria, Vibrio, commonly found in coastal marine waters and in ocean species throughout the world.

Yves Brun, the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences' Department of Biology Clyde Culbertson Professor of Biology, said McFall-Ngai's work has helped change the way we think about interactions between humans and non-human microbes.

"It is amazing to think that our own body contains ten times more microbial cells than human cells, and that the vast majority of them are beneficial to our health," Brun noted. "Margaret's beautiful studies of the vibrio-squid symbiosis provide one of the best understood examples of beneficial animal-microbe interaction, and they have revolutionized the way we think about such interactions throughout the biosphere."

McFall-Ngai's lecture, entitled "Adventures in Pioneering a Model System of Symbiosis," will be presented at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Room 130, Myers Hall, on the IU Bloomington campus. She said the hope is that through more than 20 years of studying the symbiotic relationship between the squid and Vibrio a broader focus on the history and development of the field of microbial symbiosis and its impact on biology can be realized.

"A focused effort in this area promises to drive an unprecedented integration across biology as a whole, and will revolutionize the way we think about all aspects of the biosphere," she said.

Guests at the lecture can expect to hear McFall-Ngai explore trends in host-microbe interaction across the animal kingdom, present evidence that such alliances have driven the evolutionary trajectory of those partners, and discuss how studying a diversity of symbiotic models can reveal common themes of how these relationships function.

The IU Department of Biology's Joan Wood Lecture Series was designed to encourage undergraduate women to pursue advanced degrees in science while showcasing the many career opportunities available to science majors. Before her death in 1990, Dr. Wood - a medical doctor who held a PhD in genetics from IU - was a strong advocate of women in the sciences and remained active in educational programs within the IU Department of Biology. Memorial contributions made in her honor helped establish the lecture series.

For more information, please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or