Penn State Microbiome Center elects new executive committee

Matt Black
September 24, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Penn State Microbiome Center in the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences recently elected six new members to join its executive committee. The new members, along with 11 others who remained on the committee, started their two-year term in July. The committee has kicked off this semester with a full agenda, including weekly seminars, workshops, research opportunities and more.

Executive committee members are responsible for assisting the director with maintaining the vision of the Microbiome Center; actively engaging in leadership roles and center activities; participating in executive committee meetings; and annually reporting on center activities to their respective departments and colleges.

Newly elected members are as follows:

Jasna Kovac, assistant professor, College of Agricultural Sciences. Kovac has been a member of the Microbiome Center since she joined Penn State as assistant professor in 2017. She has been the workshop coordinator for four semesters and her lab remains actively involved in the center’s activities. Her research includes food safety, foodborne pathogens, microbial genomics, antimicrobial resistance and epidemiology.

“Actively participating in the Microbiome Center activities over the past three years has been truly rewarding,” Kovac said. “I look forward to contributing to its growth and creating new learning opportunities for our diverse community while serving on the committee.”

Laura Weyrich, associate professor, College of the Liberal Arts. Weyrich joined the center in fall 2019, bringing valuable insight into her expertise across three key areas — the human microbiome, bioethics and anthropology. She chaired the center’s novel kick-start workshop which took place the first week of August and covered topics such as microbiome study design, amplicon and whole genome shotgun analyses.

“While serving on the committee, I will ensure the continued success and ongoing growth of the center, as my own research and the success of my students is absolutely enhanced by the center,” said Weyrich.

Darrell Cockburn, assistant professor, College of Agricultural Sciences. Cockburn has been a leader in the center since he arrived at Penn State in July 2017 and remains actively involved in many of the center’s activities, including coordinating the weekly meetings. His research includes the human gut microbiome, carbohydrate active enzymes, dietary fiber and resistant starch.

“I care a great deal about this center and see it as a highly valuable resource for microbiome researchers at Penn State and for the reputation of Penn State in general,” said Cockburn. “The Microbiome Center represents a key priority for me in developing my portfolio of service to Penn State and the community and it represents something that I am particularly passionate about.”

Corien Bakermans, professor, Penn State Altoona. Bakermans has been elected to serve as the committee’s campus representative to ensure that other campuses are actively involved in workshops and event planning. She has been an active participant in the center since joining in fall 2018. Her research interests include microbial physiology and ecology, cold-adapted bacteria, Arctic and Antarctic permafrost, and genomics.

David Koslicki, associate professor, College of Engineering, Eberly College of Science, and Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. Koslicki joined the center in August 2019 and is a key contributor to two of the center’s new clubs, CATS (Computation, Algorithms, Theory, and Statistics) and CAT-NIPS (Computation, Algorithms, and Theory: New Innovations Presented Succinctly). His research includes computational biology algorithm development, data science and artificial intelligence, and theoretical computer science.

“My interest in serving on this committee stems from my desire to bring awareness to, educate about and guide our vibrant microbiome center community on the topics of computational methods, theory and standards,” Koslicki said. “As a trained mathematician and current computer scientist, I bring a unique perspective to the analysis of microbiome data.”

Guy Townsend, assistant professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Penn State College of Medicine. Townsend joined the center in 2018 and has been a key stakeholder from the College of Medicine and the Hershey Medical Center. Townsend’s laboratory investigates how members of human gut microbiome colonize the mammalian gastrointestinal tract and he is interested in how bacteria sense and respond to changes in the host environment.

“I desire an active role planning, coordinating and participating in the various activities offered by the Penn State Microbiome Center and I am well-positioned to connect its members with the clinicians at the Hershey Medical Center,” he said.

Members of the committee from University Park who will serve a second or third term are:

  • James Adair, professor, College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
  • Lee Ahern, associate professor, Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications
  • Maryann Bruns, associate professor, College of Agricultural Sciences
  • Carolee Bull, Microbiome Center director, professor and head of the Department of Plant Pathology and Environmental Microbiology, College of Agricultural Sciences
  • Vasant Honavar, professor and Frymoyer chair, College of Information Sciences and Technology
  • Siela Maximova, research professor, College of Agricultural Sciences
  • Timothy Miyashiro, associate professor, Eberly College of Science
  • Andrew Patterson, professor, College of Agricultural Sciences
  • John Regan, professor, College of Engineering
  • Connie Rogers, associate professor, College of Health and Human Development
  • Cynthia White, adjunct lecturer, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

“Since fall 2016, the executive committee has worked diligently as a dedicated group to build the Penn State Microbiome Center into a resource for the Penn State community, as well as a recruiting tool for students and faculty alike,” said Bull. “It's important to thank current and past executive committee members who have helped build the center, which has become a leader among the more than 50 centers across the U.S.”

The Penn State Microbiome Center supports transformative, interdisciplinary research in microbiomes by fostering long-term working relationships while simultaneously providing infrastructure and resources needed for increasing diversity and breadth of interdisciplinary microbiome research at Penn State.

More information on upcoming seminars, workshops and other events is available on the Microbiome Center’s website.

Last Updated September 24, 2020