January 17, 2018 -- On Tuesday, January 16, Dr. Ariena van Bruggen hosted a symposium on microbial cycling in food webs in honor of her retirement from the University of Florida.
Speakers from UF and other research universities gave presentations at the event, discussing topics ranging from the spread of antibiotic resistance to oomycetes that can function as both plant and animal pathogens.
Van Bruggen’s talk, titled “Microbial cycling as a connecting force for soil plant, animal, human and ecosystem health,” discussed research on the movement of microbial pathogens between plants, animals and humans.
Several researchers from the Emerging Pathogens Institute took part in the symposium. Dr. Arie Havelaar gave a lecture on contamination cycles of zoonotic and foodborne pathogens, Dr. Volker Mai discussed microbial communities in the gastrointestinal tract, and Dr. KC Jeong gave a talk on how antimicrobial resistant pathogens travel from farms to hospitals.
Dr. Erica Goss’ presentation on oomycetes concerned multiple Pythium species, which are parasitic oomycetes that mostly affect plants. Some, such as Pythium insidiosum, can cause disease in horses, dogs, and humans. Her research suggested that even Pythium species that are not harmful to animals may have the potential to attach themselves to animals in order to move into new environments.
Dr. Joshua Weitz, a quantitative biologist from Georgia Tech, spoke about bacteriophages, which are viruses that attack bacteria. These viruses have the potential to serve as key components of alternative treatments for bacterial infections, especially in circumstances where antibiotics are unable to eliminate the infection.
Following several presentations in the auditorium of the Cancer/Genetics Research Complex, the evening concluded with a reception in the lobby of the Harn Museum.
Van Bruggen came to the University of Florida in 2009 after serving for a decade as the chair of the Biological Farming Systems Group at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. The opportunity to work at an institute dedicated to infectious diseases, she says, was a key factor motivating her to cross the Atlantic and take a position in the department of plant pathology and the Emerging Pathogens Institute.
While at UF, van Bruggen studied enteric pathogens such as Salmonella, which she had focused on in the Netherlands. She also branched out into new areas, studying citrus black spot, citrus greening and banana Xanthomonas wilt.
Van Bruggen received her PhD from Cornell University, which she attended after earning a master's degree in plant pathology from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. She was an advisor or co-advisor to 25 PhD students, and she is the author of over 200 research articles and 37 book chapters.