Department of Microbiology Honored as New Milestones Site by American Society for Microbiology

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UIUC Faculty and Administrators with Milestones Plaque. (I-) Stephen G. Sligar, Director of the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology; Michele Mariscalco, Regional Dean of the College of Medicine; Peter Schiffer, Vice Chancellor for Research, Professor of Physics; John E. Cronan, Microbiology Alumni Professor and Head of Microbiology; Gene E. Robinson, Director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology; William W. Metcalf, G. Williams Arend Professor in Molecular and Cellular Biology; Edward Feser, Interim Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts; Feng-Sheng Hu, Associate Dean for Life and Physical Sciences of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Robert L. Switzer, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry, Honorary Microbiologist; Brenda A. Wilson, Professor of Microbiology.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) was officially named a Milestones in Mi­crobiology site by ASM on 16 October 2015, in recognition of the many major accomplishments of UIUC microbiologists whose seminal discoveries significantly increased biological under­standing, advanced the science of microbiology, and continue to impact the discipline.

Among those cited for special recognition were Thomas J. Burrill (1839 -1916), who founded the science of bacterial plant pathology with his studies of Erwinia amylovora as the cause of disease in plants; Abigail A. Salyers (1942- 2013), the first female tenured professor in mi­crobiology at UIUC, who pioneered studies of Bacteroide, a major intestinal bacterium responsible for breaking down fibrous materials, and whose research enhanced understanding of anti­biotic resistance among gut bacteria; Carl R. Wo­ese (1928-2012), who discovered the Archaea, a new domain of life distinct from Bacteria and Eukarya, and whose techniques to study the phy­logenetic taxonomy among organisms based on comparison of 16S ribosomal RNA sequences revolutionized the fields of microbiology and evolution; Sol Spiegelman (1914-1983), who ini­tiated the study of RNA and the mechanisms of viral replication; Nobel Laureate Salvador E. Luria (1912-1991), who pioneered the study of the replication mechanisms and genetic structure of viruses; Irwin C. "Gunny" Gunsalus (1912- 2008), recognized for his seminal studies in mi­crobial biochemistry, including discovery of the active form of vitamin 86, and a genetic-based understanding of pseudomonads' complex met­abolic pathway to degrade steroid-like terpenes; Marvin P. Bryant (1925-2000), who made fundamental contributions to rumen bacteriology, cel­lulolysis, and fermentation processes; and Ralph S. Wolfe (1921- ), who developed the first ar­chaeal cell-free extract system for methane production, discovering new coenzymes in methane formation, and also played a leading role in estab­lishing and developing the Woods Hole Micro­bial Ecology Course.

The Milestones designation also acknowl­edges contributions UIUC has made to ASM (formerly SAB, Society of American Bacteriolo­gists). As of 2015, six UIUC scientists have served as ASM (or SAB) Presidents: Thomas J. Burrill (1916), H. Orin Halvorson (1955), Abigail A. Sa­lyers (2002), all of whom served while at UIUC, and Salvador E. Luria (1968), L. Leon Campbell (1974), and Stanley R. Maloy (2006), who served after they left UIUC. In addition, the first ASM journal, the Journal of Bacteriology, and the estab­lishment of local Branches were initially pro­posed at the 1915 SAB Meeting hosted by the University. The first volume of Journal of Bacte­riology was subsequently published in 1916. The Bacteriology Club at Urbana became the first lo­cal Branch of SAB (1917).

The Milestones Ceremony
To commemorate the Milestones designation, the UIUC Department of Microbiology hosted a ceremony during which representatives of vari­ous departments and schools in the university offered their perspectives on the Milestones award. Stanley Maloy, Past President of ASM and former UIUC Department of Micro­biology Professor, presented the Milestones plaque to Interim Provost & Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Edward Feser and Microbiol­ogy Alumni Professor and Head of Microbiology John E. Cronan, who accepted the plaque on be­half of the University. Maloy remarked, "This is truly a wonderful, magical place because of the people here. We're recognizing some people here whose names are everywhere in microbiology. You can't miss those names because of their im­pact. But the culture of microbiology here at UIUC is that everyone works together and moves forward."

The ceremony was well attended by faculty, emeritus faculty, students, postdoctoral fel­lows, ASM guests, university administrators, and the mayors of neighboring towns Urbana and Champaign-Laurel Prussing and Debo­rah Feinen, respectively. Also in attendance was Ralph Wolfe, one of the scientists cited on the Milestones plaque, who commented prior to the ceremony, "I am honored to be recog­nized by this award, but scientific visibility and stature are due largely to the fact that sci­ence rides on the backs of graduate and postdoctoral students as they drag their professor into unknown areas. I therefore thank all the students who have passed through my lab over the years, contributing to this Milestone site."

The Milestones plaque will be prominently displayed in the lobby of the Chemical and Life Sciences Laboratory Building, allowing for broad public exposure. Plans are being made to add other historical displays near the plaque.

On the day following the Milestones cere­mony, it was "back to business" with the Department's Annual Microbiology Research Conference, featuring presentations, posters, im­promptu talks, trivia contests (in which the stu­dents roundly defeated "elder" faculty), and dy­namic exchange, thus continuing the tradition of scientific excellence at UIUC. For more informa­tion on the Milestones in Microbiology Program, see www.asm.org/milestones-in-microbiology.

University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign-Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

The Milestones in Microbiology program recog­nizes seminal accomplishments in microbiology, ­accomplishments that significantly increased bi­ological understanding and advanced the field of microbiology, and often science and society as a whole. In October 2015, a Milestones in Microbi­ology designation was presented to the Univer­sity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). This designation recognizes the contributions of many outstanding microbiologists for over a cen­tury.

UIUC has played a central role ASM since its founding. The Journal of Bacteriology and the establishment of local Branches were first pro­posed at the 1915 meeting of the Society of Bac­teriology (as ASM was then known) at UIUC. And the first local Branch of the Society was es­tablished at UIUC in 1917. However, this award is not simply about events, but the people who catalyzed the science. The Milestones plaque spe­cifically cites the contributions of eight UIUC scientists who left an indelible mark on our field.

When referring to regrettable events it is often said that "people who don't understand history are destined to repeat it," but the opposite is also true-understanding how an institution became successful can provide a useful model for emula­tion. Milestones in Microbiology recognizes his­torical accomplishments, but microbiology at UIUC is not simply "past-tense" -microbiologists at UIUC continue to maintain the tradition of transformative research.

Although their names do not appear on the plaque, the true sign of the impact of an academic institution on the future is the success of the students who have been trained there. Faculty and students have an invaluable mutualistic relationship-as Ralph Wolfe says, "Success of professors depends upon their graduate stu­dents." Many of the students trained at UIUC have gone on to become leaders in academia and industry.

The strength of any great department is the people, but despite what some might say, it is more than simply a matter of hiring the rightAnd the first local Branch of the Society was es­tablished at UIUC in 1917. However, this award is not simply about events, but the people who catalyzed the science. The Milestones plaque spe­cifically cites the contributions of eight UIUC scientists who left an indelible mark on our field.

When referring to regrettable events it is often said that "people who don't understand history are destined to repeat it," but the opposite is also true-understanding how an institution became successful can provide a useful model for emula­tion. Milestones in Microbiology recognizes his­torical accomplishments, but microbiology at UIUC is not simply "past-tense" -microbiologists at UIUC continue to maintain the tradition of transformative research.

The strength of any great department is the people, but despite what some might say, it is more than simply a matter of hiring the right people. It is also about institutional culture. For many decades, microbiologists at UIUC have fostered an atmosphere of collaboration, coopera­tion, and camaraderie among the faculty, re­search students, and staff. This closeness and mutual respect allows the open discussion of sci­entific disagreements and honest criticism of each other's work without disrupting effective inter­personal interactions. This has led to an interactive en­vironment that promotes critical thinking and drives everyone to think broadly. I know this personally be­cause I had the tremendous pleasure of working in Mi­crobiology at UIUC from 1984 until 2002, where I was immersed in the department history-often via stories told by Ralph Wolfe over faculty lunches-a tradition that provides a weekly fo­rum for informal discussions.

In short, this Milestones in Microbiology designation not only reflects the impressive scientists that contributed to microbiology at UIUC, but also the current and future contributions of this microbiology icon.


Article courtesy of American Society for Microbiology. Written by Stan Malloy, originally published inthe March 2016 issue of Microbe.

Posted April 01, 2016.