Symposium focuses on unique challenges of environmental pathogens

February 09, 2004

SEATTLE, WA--February 14, 2004--Human health requires the ability to withstand colonization and infiltration by a host of microorganisms from diverse environmental sources. How have these environmental pathogens gained the ability to infect us? What adaptations have they made to move between nonhuman and human environments? And how can we use our understanding of the environmental ecology of these organisms to limit human exposure to infectious disease and possible bioterror agents?

These issues will be explored in depth at a symposium sponsored by the American Academy of Microbiology, "From Outside to Inside: Environmental Microorganisms as Human Pathogens," to be held at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on Saturday, February 14, 2004, 2:30-5:30 p.m., in Seattle, WA.

The symposium will examine several issues that are vital to current research on environmental pathogens. For example, although they are not professional human pathogens, many of these organisms cause devastating diseases, such as cholera or Legionnaire's disease, which can affect large populations or groups of susceptible individuals. Some cause illnesses with serious economic impact (e.g., listeriosis), can be used as deadly biowarfare agents (e.g., anthrax), or can cause persistent infections that are extremely difficult to treat (e.g., Mycobacterium avium complex, or MAC). This raises intriguing questions about how these microorganisms evolved the ability to cause disease and resist antibiotic treatment. Global climate change and the threat of biowarfare could radically alter the nature of human interactions with environmental pathogens, affecting disease prevalence. Disease prevention is also a significant question.

Speakers at the session include organizer Gerard A. Cangelosi, Ph.D., Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, who will provide an overview of the issues involved in studying environmental pathogens and discuss "Mycobacterium avium Complex: A Product of Its Breeding." Rita R. Colwell, Ph.D., D.Sc., National Science Foundation and Center of Marine Biotechnology, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute, will speak on "Cholera and the Environment: A Classic Model for Human Pathogens in the Environment." Norman R. Pace, Ph.D., University of Colorado, Boulder, will discuss "Environmental Pathogens and Microbial Ecology." Philip C. Hanna, Ph.D., University of Michigan Medical School, will present "Toward a Complete B. anthracis Life Cycle in Soils." Nancy E. Freitag, Ph.D., Seattle Biomedical Research Institute, completes the panel's offerings with "You Are What You Eat: Listeria monocytogenes Inside and Outside the Host."
The American Academy of Microbiology is the honorific leadership group within the American Society for Microbiology, the world's oldest life science organization. The Academy's mission is to recognize excellence and foster knowledge in the microbiological sciences, through the Critical Issues Colloquia Reports, professional certification and accreditation programs, and other efforts. For more information, contact Mimi Godfrey at, or visit the Academy's Web site at

American Society for Microbiology

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