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Penn Vet to Host Symposium on Microbes in Health and Disease Featuring Science Writer Carl Zimmer

By Ashley Berke Published: Sep 12, 2014

[September 12, 2014; Philadelphia, PA] – From a major Ebola outbreak in West Africa to MERS in Saudi Arabia to polio in Syria to chikungunya in the Caribbean, the news these days is full of stories about viruses. The Microbial Communities in Health and Disease Carl Zimmersymposium, sponsored by Penn Vet, in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine and School of Arts & Sciences, will explore how bacteria, parasites, viruses, and other organisms interact with their animal and human hosts in ways that either maintain health or lead to disease.

The timely, two-day symposium will begin with a special public event – a discussion with acclaimed science writer Carl Zimmer on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 from 6-7:30pm at the Inn at Penn (3600 Sansom St., Philadelphia). Presentations for the scientific community will take place at Penn Vet’s Hill Pavilion (380 S. University Ave., Philadelphia) on Thursday, October 16, 2014. Admission is FREE, but registration is required at (for the 10/15 event) and (for the 10/16 presentations).

Author and New York Times columnist Carl Zimmer will discuss “A Planet of Viruses: How Humans Can Live Safely on a Viral World.” One of the most frightening things about viruses is how they emerge without warning, vanish mysteriously, and then return again even more dangerous than before. Zimmer will discuss how scientists are uncovering the hidden rules by which new viruses evolve and spread. To do so, they’re exploring the networks of connections that join human societies together and also link our species to other animals with which we share the planet—and with which we can share diseases.

On October 16, eight prominent scientists will discuss cutting-edge work investigating how microbes not only cause disease, but also how “good bugs” promote health. Speakers include:

  • Janelle Ayres, PhD, Nomis Foundation Laboratories, Salk Institute for Biological Studies
  • Yasmine Belkaid, PhD, Chief, Mucosal Immunology Section, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
  • Claire Fraser, PhD, Director, Institute for Genome Sciences, University of Maryland School of Medicine
  • Jack Gilbert, PhD, Department of Ecology & Evolution, University of Chicago
  • Sergio Lira, MD, PhD, Director, Immunology Institute, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
  • Martin F. Polz, PhD, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • John Rawls, PhD, Department of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, Duke University Medical Center
  • Ramnik Xavier, MD, PhD, Director, Center for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Massachusetts General Hospital 

This event is made possible in part by the Provost Interdisciplinary Seminar Fund Award and exemplifies the One Health Initiative, which is dedicated to improving the lives of all species through the integration of human medicine, veterinary medicine, and environmental science.

The symposium is spearheaded by Penn Vet’s Center for Host-Microbial Interactions. The Center funded five pilot projects last year to explore the intersection of microbes and disease in order to benefit both animal and human health. The second round of funded projects will be announced next month. For more information, visit

About Penn Vet 

Penn Vet is a global leader in veterinary medicine education, research, and clinical care. Founded in 1884, Penn Vet is the only veterinary school developed in association with a medical school. The school is a proud member of the One Health Initiative, linking human, animal, and environmental health.

Penn Vet serves a diverse population of animals at its two campuses, which include extensive diagnostic and research laboratories. Ryan Hospital in Philadelphia provides care for dogs, cats, and other domestic/companion animals, handling more than 31,000 patient visits a year. New Bolton Center, Penn Vet’s large-animal hospital on nearly 700 acres in rural Kennett Square, PA, cares for horses and livestock/farm animals. The hospital handles more than 4,000 patient visits a year, while the Field Service treats nearly 36,000 patients at local farms. In addition, New Bolton Center’s campus includes a swine center, working dairy, and poultry unit that provide valuable research for the agriculture industry.

For more information, visit