Microbial Multiverse Symposium

September 14–16, 2023 | View Symposium Schedule

The launch of the Illinois Microbial Systems Initiative (MSI) in 2019 built upon the collaborative spirit of the UIUC campus and fostered a community of over 300 faculty, staff, and students from 60+ units across campus.

On September 14–16, 2023 the Microbial Multiverse Symposium will showcase the breadth of microbial systems research on campus and how this work is driven through collaboration. This two-and-a-half day symposium will open with a public lecture at the Alice Campbell Alumni Center by the Director of Biosphere Sciences and Engineering at Carnegie Science, Margaret McFall-Ngai.

Day two, hosted at the Beckman Institute, will include sessions led by UIUC researchers and featuring invited speakers who are working across disciplinary boundaries and a poster session featuring members of the MSI community. The symposium will close with a panel discussion on Microbes in Society.

The Microbial Multiverse Symposium is co-hosted by the Department of Microbiology, the Institute for Genomic Biology, the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, the College of Veterinary Medicine, and the Personalized Nutrition Initiative and made possible by the Olga G. Nalbandov Lecture Fund.

Find out more about the Poster Session.

Important Dates

July 3, 2023
August 24, 2023
September 5, 2023

Poster Session Abstract Submission Opens
Poster Abstract Submission Deadline [extended from Aug. 4]
Registration Closes


Lecture and Reception – Thursday, September 14

Alice Campbell Alumni Center Ballroom
601 S. Lincoln Avenue, Urbana

6:00 – 8:00 p.m.Welcome
Cari Vanderpool, Director of the Microbial Systems Initiative
Gene Robinson, Director of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology
Public Lecture
Margaret McFall-Ngai, Director and Senior Staff Scientist at Carnegie’s Biosphere Sciences and Engineering Division

Sessions – Friday, September 15

Beckman Institute Room 1025- Auditorium
405 N Mathews Ave, Urbana

8:30 – 9:00 a.m.Breakfast and Registration
9:00 – 9:15 a.m.Opening Remarks
9:15 – 10:45 a.m.Session 1: Microbes and the Environment
Chair: Katy Heath
Featured Presenter:
Maggie Wagner, University of Kansas
Illinois Presenters:
Shreya Arya, PhD student in O’Dwyer lab in the Department of Plant Biology
Tony Yannarell, Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences
Sierra Raglin, PhD student in Angela Kent’s lab, Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences
10:45 – 11:00 a.m.Coffee Break
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.Session 2: Microbe-microbe Interaction
Chair: Asma Hatoum-Aslan
Featured Presenter:
Dominique Limoli, University of Iowa
Illinois Presenters:
Angad Mehta, Department of Chemistry
Ido Golding, Department of Physics
Christopher Brooke, School of Molecular & Cellular Biology
12:30 – 1:30 p.m.Lunch break
1:30 – 3:00 p.m.Session 3: Microbes and Nutrition
Session chair: Sharon Donovan
Featured Presenter:
Suzanne Devkota, Cedars-Sinai
Illinois Presenters:
Sharon Donovan, Food Science & Human Nutrition
Hannah Holscher, Food Science & Human Nutrition
Jacob Allen, Kinesiology & Community Health
3:00 – 3:30 p.m.Coffee Break
3:30 – 5:00 p.m.Session 4: Microbes and the Brain
Chair: Adrienne Antonson
Featured Presenter:
Helen Vuong, University of Minnesota
Illinois Presenters:
Brett Loman, Department of Animal Sciences
Elisa Caetano-Silva, Postdoctoral student in Jacob Allen’s Lab
Adrienne Antonson, Department of Animal Science
5:00 – 6:30 p.m.Poster Session
with Refreshments

Sessions and Panel – Saturday, September 16

Beckman Institute Room 1025 – Auditorium
405 N Mathews Ave, Urbana

9:00 – 9:30 a.m.Coffee and Registration
9:30 – 11:00 a.m.Session 5: Harnessing Microbial Activities
Chair: Shannon Sirk
Featured Presenter:
Erica Majumder, University of Wisconsin – Madison
Illinois Presenters:
Brenda Wilson, School of Molecular & Cellular Biology
Asma Hatoum-Aslan, School of Molecular & Cellular Biology
Na Wei, Civil & Environmental Engineering
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.Microbes in Society Panel Discussion
Moderators: Pamela Martinez and Becky Smith
Featured Presenter:
Monica Green, Author and Historian, Independent Scholar
Illinois Presenters:
Jodi Schneider, School of Information Science
Jacinda Dariotis, Family Resiliency Center
Pamela Martinez, School of Molecular & Cellular Biology
Sang-Hwa Oh, Department of Advertising
12:30 – 12:45 p.m.Closing Remarks

About the planning chairs:  

Paola Mera is a researcher passionate about unraveling the intricate molecular orchestration driving bacterial growth. The Mera Lab, employs a multidisciplinary approach, merging bacterial genetics, advanced imaging, and biochemistry to dissect the communication networks governing essential cell cycle processes such as chromosome replication, segregation, and cytokinesis in organisms like Caulobacter crescentus and Helicobacter pylori. Her work not only sheds light on fundamental bacterial biology but also holds promise for the development of antibiotics targeting these coordination pathways. Her research also explores how bacteria adapt to varying environments, investigating how factors like nutrient availability and stressors influence the cell cycle. Mera is an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology. 


Christopher Gaulke deciphers the intricate molecular mechanisms governing host-microbe interactions. The Gaulke lab employs a multidisciplinary approach that spans clinical and basic sciences, his research integrates high-throughput screens, advanced molecular techniques, and statistical modeling to pinpoint environmental factors capable of perturbing the microbiome’s taxonomic, genetic, and metabolic makeup. By merging these findings with measures of host physiology and immunity, his team identifies critical links between microbiome activity and host well-being. The goal is to utilize this comprehensive understanding to uncover exposure biomarkers, elucidate microbial bioremediation pathways, and engineer microbial communities that counteract the adverse impacts of exposures, ultimately fostering health and resilience. Gaulke is an assistant professor in the Department of Pathobiology.