The 11th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Webinar will feature Karine Gibbs, an associate professor in the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. The webinar will take place from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 21, and will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

Gibbs is a Jamaican American microbiologist who merges the fields of sociomicrobiology and bacterial cell biology to understand how bacteria use a sense of identity to assemble and move as a community. 

“Dr. Karine Gibbs studies the fascinating bacterial trait of social behavior, which is based on the distinction between self and non-self. Her research on bacterial communication is transformative to other aspects of population biology such as territorial animal behavior,” said Birgit Scharf, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Science.

The webinar is the first in a series of Virginia Tech Life Science Seminars (VTLSS) that will be held on Zoom this spring. You can join this seminar, and other weekly seminars, by visiting this link. The Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech is among the sponsors of the university-wide seminar series.

The VTLSS series has a long tradition of bringing world-renowned scientists to Virginia Tech. This spring, seminars will cover a wide range of topics, ranging from cell geometry and the human microbiome to botany, and will cover research on bacteria, viruses, plants, and animals.

Gibbs studies an unconventional organism, Proteus mirabilis, which lives in human and animal intestines as well as the environment. These bacteria can cause disease after moving to the bladder. Her research asks how an organism's identity, communication, and local environment influence its behavior.

Ignacio Moore, a professor and chair of the diversity committee at the Virginia Tech College of Science's Department of Biological Sciences, said what makes her work so interesting and exciting is that she is exploring questions about identity in bacteria, which most of us don't think of as having identities.

“Dr. Gibbs is working to understand the molecular mechanisms that bacteria use to recognize each other as being the same or foreign. Her research has attracted great interest as basic science but also from a biomedical perspective, as these bacteria inhabit human and animal intestines and when in the bladder they are known to cause disease,” said Moore, who is also an affiliated faculty member of the Global Change Center.

Gibbs attended Harvard University for her undergraduate studies and Stanford University for her graduate studies. She worked as an assistant and associate professor at Harvard University before taking up her current position as an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Her work has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, a private foundation that works with partners around the world to improve the lives of children, families, and communities via social, cultural, and environmental change.

The VTLSS interdisciplinary seminars are open to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty and staff. Past seminars have been given by high caliber scientists, including federal agency program officers and a Nobel prize awardee.

You can view the list of previous seminars in their archive and watch some of them on the YouTube playlist. You do not have to be in the life sciences to attend; if a subject matter is of interest to you, the VTLSS committee welcomes your participation.

For more information, visit this link

This event is being hosted by the Biological Sciences Diversity Committee. In addition to Moore, current members of the committee are Anne McNabb, professor emerita of biological sciences and associate dean emerita of the Graduate School (Co-Chair); Bryan Brown, associate professor of biological sciences; Mike Rosenzweig, senior instructor and biological sciences outreach coordinator; Florian Schubot, associate professor of biological sciences; Josef Uyeda, assistant professor of biological sciences; Amber Wendler, Korin Jones, Jess Janoski, and Marissa Langager, all Ph.D. students in the Department of Biological Sciences.

Co-sponsors for this event are: VT Life Sciences Seminar; Department of Biological Sciences; College of Science Diversity Committee; College of Natural Resources and Environment; Women and Minority Artists and Scholars Lecture Series; Global Change Center; Office of Inclusion and Diversity; Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior Seminar Series; Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine; and the Fralin Life Sciences Institute.

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