St. Jude/PIDS Conference Featured Speaker: Dr. Bonnie Bassler

On Day 3 of the St. Jude PIDS Conference, Dr. Bonnie Bassler will present the 36th Erskine Lecture. The John H. Erskine Lecture in Infectious Diseases is a highly anticipated event held to commemorate the Memphis yellow fever outbreak of 1878 and to honor the Memphis city health officer who served during that catastrophic year. 

Yellow fever had a devastating effect on Memphis. Of the 40,000 residents living there in 1878, some 20,000 left in one week following reports of the outbreak. Of the 20,000 remaining residents, 17,500 contracted the disease and 5,100 died – Dr. John Erskine was one of these individuals.

This year’s Erskine Lecture speaker, Dr. Bassler, is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and the Squibb Professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University.

“Dr. Bassler has made fundamental contributions to the field of bacterial communication.  Microbes conduct a dialog using small molecules to coordinate functions as a population in a process known as quorum sensing.  First described for bacterial competence for the uptake of DNA in the 1970s, Dr. Bassler greatly expanded this concept to complex communities such as biofilms.  Biofilms are resilient structures that she has studied down to the single cell level,” stated Dr. Elaine Tuomanen. “They are widespread in medicine as they coat catheters and form in human vasculature, especially in the heart. Biofilms are exceptionally hard to eradicate as they harbor bacteria of many phenotypes that escape antibiotic killing, such as tolerance, persistence, and resistance.”

She began her career receiving a B.S. in Biochemistry from the University of California at Davis, and a Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University. She performed postdoctoral work in Genetics at the Agouron Institute and joined the Princeton faculty in 1994. Dr. Bassler is a passionate advocate for diversity in the sciences and she is actively involved in and committed to science education. She has also received many awards, honors and significant recognition, such as the following:

  • Awarded the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2002
  • Elected to the American Academy of Microbiology in 2002
  • Became a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2004
  • Recipient of the American Society for Microbiology’s Eli Lilly Investigator Award for fundamental contributions to microbiological research in 2006
  • Received Princeton University’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2008
  • Recipient of the Wiley Prize in Biomedical Science for her paradigm-changing scientific research in 2009
  • President of the American Society for Microbiology from 2010-2011
  • Recipient of the National Academies’ Richard Lounsbery Award in 2011
  • UNESCO-L’Oreal Woman in Science for North America in 2012
  • Elected to the Royal Society and the American Philosophical Society in 2012
  • Became a member of EMBO in 2013
  • Chaired the American Academy of Microbiology Board of Governors from 2011-2014
  • Received the Shaw Prize in Life Sciences and Medicine and the Ricketts Award in 2015
  • Received the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize and the FASEB Excellence in Science Award in 2016
  • Won the Max Planck Research Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and was elected a fellow of ASCB in 2016
  • Awarded the Dickson Prize in Medicine and the Ernst Schering Prize in 2018
  • Received the Gruber Prize in Genetics for her groundbreaking discoveries and she also received the Genetics Society of America Medal in 2020
  • Was a member of the National Science Board for six years and was nominated to that position by President Barack Obama

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