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Distinguished Lecture "The Microbiome in Health and Agriculture"


Event Date:          Tuesday, April 21, 2015 - 16:00
Event Location:    MSI Large Lecture Theatre
Event Speaker:     Jack A. Gilbert

Agriculture has always maintained an intricate association with microbiology, with a long history of innovation and exploration of the role bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses play in nutrient cycling, plant productivity and disease suppression. This parallels the medical industry, in which understanding microbial pathogens has similarly led to significant changes in management practice over the last 150 years. Medicine is currently undergoing a revolution, with the bacterial communities associated with our bodies and our environments being implicated in influencing not just infections, but also allergic responses, neurological conditions and cancer. This realization has resulted in the development of numerous large-scale research initiatives, costing $100s of millions, so that we can better understand and track down the individual bacteria or consortia of microbes that are associated with these conditions, and importantly prove causality and determine treatment strategies. Agriculture is arguably undergoing a similar revolution, both in animal husbandry, which maintains a similar focus to human medicine, and in cropping. With this renewed interest in the complex microbial interface between soil, crops and farming practice we are seeing a significant increase in investment in scientific research aimed at leveraging new technologies and ecological understanding, to identify key organisms and assemblages that influence crop productivity and disease resistance. Here I will examine new findings, and highlight ongoing work to help generate scientific evidence that can guide management practice decisions to help improve both health and farming practices in the 21st century.

Biography Dr Jack A Gilbert earned his Ph.D. from Unilever and Nottingham University, UK in 2002, and received his postdoctoral training at Queens University, Canada. He subsequently returned to the UK in 2005 to Plymouth Marine Laboratory at a senior scientist until his move to Argonne National Laboratory and the University of Chicago in 2010. Dr Gilbert is Group Leader for Microbial Ecology at Argonne National Laboratory, Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at University of Chicago, Associate Director of the Institute of Genomic and Systems Biology, and Senior Scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory. Dr. Gilbert uses molecular analysis and sequencing tools to test fundamental hypotheses in microbial ecology. He has authored more than peer reviewed 160 publications and book chapters on metagenomics and approaches to ecosystem ecology ( He is currently working on generating observational and mechanistic models of microbial communities in natural, urban, built and human ecosystems. He is on the board of the Genomic Standards Consortium (, is an section editor for PLoS ONE and senior editor for the ISME Journal and Environmental Microbiology. Among other projects, he leads the Earth Microbiome Project (, Home Microbiome Project (, Hospital Microbiome Project (, and co-founded American Gut ( In 2014 he was recognized on Crain’s Buisness Chicago’s 40 Under 40 List.