Exploring bacteria travel patterns and creating a road map of sorts could help reduce infections transmitted at hospitals.
Dr. Jack Gilbert will present his research into microbial communities at his Chautauqua lecture on Thursday, Sept. 24 at Eastern Kentucky University. Gilbert, associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, group leader in microbial ecology at Argonne National Laboratory, associate director of the Institute for Genomic and Systems Biology and adjunct senior scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory, will address “What if We Can Use Bacteria to Make Hospitals Healthier? The Invisible Influence of the Microbiome” at 7:30 p.m. in O’Donnell Hall of the Whitlock Building. His talk is free and open to the public.
Gilbert’s research focuses on the ecology, evolution and metabolic dynamics of microbial ecosystems from myriad environments including built environments, oceans, rivers, soils, air, plants, animals and humans.
He is part of the Hospital Microbiome Project, supported by the Alfred P. Sloane Foundation, which investigates the taxonomic composition of surface, air, water and human-associated microbial communities in two hospitals to monitor changes in community structure following the introduction of patients and hospital staff.
The Project is the first study of its kind conducted specifically to examine how microbial communities develop in a hospital. Its aim is to determine the influence of population demographics, how the demographic interfaces with a space and the building materials used to create that space on the community succession and the rate of colonization by potential pathogens.
“Once we have the map, we will better understand the highways and byways of surfaces, air and water that both disease-causing bacteria and the bacteria essential for the health of the building and its occupants travel along,” Gilbert said. “This includes which ones flourish where and understanding which ones have the most impact on particular diseases. Northing at this scale has ever been done before.”
The findings are to be used to improve patient care through better-informed approaches to predicting the role of building design and materials in controlling the spread of microorganisms.
Gilbert is also founding editor-in-chief of Systems Journal and founded and led the Earth Microbiome Project and American Gut, two massive collaborative efforts aimed at developing a comprehensive understanding of the bacterial and fungal communities that inhabit myriad niches across our planet and our bodies.
He has produced more than 150 peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters and reports over the course of his career and pioneered efforts to define how microbial ecosystems evolve in built environments and our bodies.
Gilbert’s lecture is sponsored by the Bridge Scholar Program, the College of Health Sciences, the Department of Biological Sciences and the Honors Program.