19 Dec 2022 15:00

ECLT and NICHE Christmas Lecture 2022 "Horizons in the study of biosystem structure and function"

Ca' Bottacin, Venice and online

Monday, 19 December 2022

ECLT and NICHE Christmas Lecture 2022

Professor Margaret McFall-Ngai
Faculty Associate, California Institute of Technology
Director, Division of Biosphere Sciences and Engineering, Carnegie Institution for Science

Horizons in the study of biosystem structure and function:
Biology at an inflection point driven by a revolution

As our natural environment is experiencing unprecedented challenges due to climate change, our view of the relationships among life forms on Earth is dramatically transforming.
Prior to the mid-twentieth century, the diversity of life was categorized optically, either by features that could be seen with the unaided eye or by increasingly powerful microscopes, i.e., with the aided eye.
Then, in the mid-1970s, Carl Woese, an American biophysicist and microbiologist at the University of Illinois-Urbana, reasoned that biotechnology had developed to a point where we should be able to use gene sequences to classify the members of the biological world more accurately. His approach of using molecular phylogenies, while expensive and slow at the time, would reveal that the invisible world of microbes was more complex and foundational than the scientific community could ever have foreseen.
Then, only about fifteen years ago, a critical technological breakthrough introduced gene-sequencing methods that were fast and inexpensive. The application of this remarkable scientific advance revealed the vast diversity of microbes and the role that these invisible partners played in the health of all corners of our biosphere, from the soils and oceans to the animals and plants.
This presentation will focus on what we have learned across the spectrum, from biomedicine to ecology, as a result of this breakthrough.
Specifically, it will explore how this remodeling of biological thought is paving the way not only to an unprecedented unification of the often-siloed disciplines of biology, but also to the development of effective approaches for ameliorating critical challenges to human kind, such as the effects of climate change.  

Short bio:

Margaret McFall-Ngai is the Director of the Division of Biosphere Sciences and Engineering at Carnegie Institution for Science and a Faculty Associate at California Institute of Technology. Her research group studies the role of beneficial bacteria in health using the squid-vibrio model. McFall-Ngai has also been heavily involved in promoting microbiology as the cornerstone of the field of biology. In support of this effort, she recently served at the White House during the Obama Administration on the committee for the development of the National Microbiome Initiative. She was a Moore Scholar at California Institute of Technology (2011-2013) and a Guggenheim fellow (2010), is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor, and is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology (2002), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (2011), and the National Academy of Sciences (2014).

How to participate:

  • Place are limited. Fill in this form if you wish you to attend in person at Ca' Bottacin, Venice.
  • If you wish to participate online please consider this Zoom link.


The event will be held in English

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