PennVet | Fourth annual Microbiome Symposium features influential science writer Ed Yong
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Fourth annual Microbiome Symposium features influential science writer Ed Yong

By: John Donges Published: Mar 22, 2018

Ed Yong gives his talk, “I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life.” Microbes are ubiquitous and vital to humans: they sculpt our organs, defend us from disease, break down our food, educate our immune systems, guide our behavior, bombard our genomes with their genes, and grant us incredible abilities. Much of the prevailing discussion around the microbiome focuses on its implications for human health, yet when we look at the animal kingdom through a microbial lens, even the most familiar parts of our lives take on a striking new air.

Last November, acclaimed science journalist Ed Yong discussed the hidden worlds of microbes, how they influence our lives, and how we might reshape them to improve our health during the fourth annual Microbiome Symposium, presented by Penn Vet’s Center for Host- Microbial Interactions (CHMI), the Perelman School of Medicine, and the PennCHOP Microbiome Program.

The two-day symposium began with Yong’s talk, “I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life,” at Penn Vet’s Hill Pavilion. Author of The New York Times best-selling book I Contain Multitudes, Yong reports for The Atlantic and has contributed to National Geographic, The New Yorker, Wired, Nature, New Scientist, and Scientific American, among other magazines. He has won a variety of awards, including the Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award for biomedical reporting in 2016, the Byron H. Waksman Award for Excellence in the Public Communication of Life Sciences in 2016, and the National Academies Keck Science Communication Award in 2010 for his blog Not Exactly Rocket Science. His TED talk on mind-controlling parasites has been watched by more than 1.5 million people.

Speakers at the symposium also included Dr. Grace Aldrovandi, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at the University of California, Los Angeles; Dr. Laurie Comstock, Associate Microbiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School; Dr. Gabriel Nunez, Co-Director of the Immunology & Host Response Program in the Department of Pathology, University of Michigan; Dr. Manuela Raffatellu, Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of California, San Diego; and Dr. Cynthia Sears, Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University.

The CHMI is designed to facilitate collaborative projects that leverage genomics to study the intersection of microbes and disease. In doing so, researchers gain insight into how bacteria, parasites, viruses, and other organisms interact with their animal and human hosts in ways that either maintain health or lead to disease.