2020 Saltiel Life Sciences Symposium explores diverse approaches to biological and biomedical research

For the past several decades, basic research in the life sciences has focused predominately on experimental approaches using only a handful of species, such as the mouse and the fruit fly.  Similarly, much human clinical research has failed to account for diversity in sex, age, race, ethnicity and lifestyle.

But as major technological advances and new techniques like CRISPR accelerate scientists’ ability to understand organisms at the molecular and genetic level, researchers continue to push the boundaries of what we study and how we approach research across the biosciences.

 “Clearly there have been innumerable significant discoveries using some of the more traditional approaches,” says Bing Ye., Ph.D., an associate professor at the University of Michigan Life Sciences Institute. “But how much more we can learn—not just about human health but about the interfaces of biology and other disciplines—by broadening our scientific lens?”

The theme of this year’s LSI Saltiel Life Sciences Symposium, “Broadening the Biosciences: Exploring diverse approaches to biological and biomedical research,” aims to answer that question by exploring innovative and creative research already taking place to address scientific challenges across the biosciences.

In response to, and as a reflection of, this theme, the LSI is taking a new approach to its symposium this year. The two-day virtual event will offer a combination of full lectures and shorter talks from both external speakers and U-M investigators, organized around broad research topics that encompass a range of disciplines—from population genetics and evolution to biomimicry and robotics.

“We want to look at ideas and disciplines that people do not often think about together, but which can work together to produce really novel discoveries,” says LSI associate professor Cheng-Yu Lee, Ph.D. who is co-organizing the event along with Ye. “It’s a way for us to come together and ask: How can we build interactions and collaborations to extend this innovative work?”

This year’s speakers include:

  • Flaminia Catteruccia, Ph.D., professor of immunology and infectious disease at Harvard University, whose lab is investigating molecular and behavioral parameters that enable mosquitos to transmit malaria, with the goal of advancing the development of more effective tools for mosquito and malaria control.
  • Timothy James, Ph.D., professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at U-M, whose research seeks to link the evolution of sex and reproductive traits of fungi with phylogeny and population genetics.
  • Cora MacAlister, Ph.D., assistant professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology at U-M, who studies how changes in the pathways regulating plant development have produced the enormous diversity found in today’s plants.
  • Shai Revzen, Ph.D., assistant professor, electrical engineering and computer science at U-M, whose research bridges biology and robotics, applying the scientific study of animal and human locomotion to the design of robotic vehicles.
  • Raymond St. Leger, Ph.D., professor of entomology at the University of Maryland, whose lab is advancing understanding the biochemistry and molecular biology of fungi with the goals of developing more potent insecticidal fungi and producing insect-resistant plants.
  • Nicholas Teets, Ph.D., assistant professor of entomology, at the University of Kentucky, who studies the mechanistic basis of environmental stress tolerance in insects both to determine how to improve stress tolerance in beneficial insects and to develop new strategies for human organ cryopreservation.
  • Elizabeth Tibbetts, Ph.D. , professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at U-M, whose lab studies Polistes paper wasps as a model to determine how individual behavior influences social groups and populations.
  • Sarah A. Tishkoff, Ph.D., professor of genetics and biology at the University of Pennsylvania, whose research combines field work, lab work and computational methods to examine how genetic variation among humans can affect a wide range of traits, including susceptibility to disease.
  • Barry A. Trimmer, Ph.D., professor of natural sciences at Tufts University, who studies the neural processes that organize sensory and motor information to control animal locomotion. As director of the Neuromechanics and Biomimetic Devices Laboratory, Trimmer applies these biological principles in the design, fabrication and control of new types of machines.

“What excites me the most about all of the speakers we invited is their incredible creativity,” says LSI Director Roger Cone, Ph.D. “Each of them uses an unconventional approach to their research, and each of the stories we’re going to hear about is unique.”

The 2020 virtual Saltiel Life Sciences Symposium will take place via Zoom Webinar from 2:00 to 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 29, and from 9:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Wednesday, September 30. The event is free and open to the public; registration is required. More information and a detailed schedule are available online.

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About the Annual Symposium

Now in its 19th year, the annual LSI symposium continues to represent the institute’s most important values: excellence in science, investment in high-impact research, and especially the synergy that happens when top scientists from a range of fields meet and share their work around a common theme.

In 2016, the annual LSI symposium was named the Saltiel Life Sciences Symposium thanks to an endowment made possible by the generous support of the LSI’s faculty, Leadership Council, Scientific Advisory Board and friends. The name recognizes the leadership and scientific contributions made by former LSI Director Alan R. Saltiel during his 13-year tenure.