New NAS Member from Hawaii Reveals How Animals Select Good Microbes, Reject Harmful Ones

Margaret McFall-Ngai, Professor and Director of the Pacific Biosciences Research Center (PBRC), School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, at the University of Hawai'i (UH) at Mānoa, is the only woman at UH who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). In her inaugural article published this week (August 28 – Seoptember 1) in PNAS commemorating her induction into one of the country's most distinguished scientific groups, she and a team of researchers reveal a newly discovered mechanism by which organisms select beneficial microbes and reject harmful ones. The internal microbial communities, or consortia, of mammals, such as humans, are complex in that they require many bacterial types for healthy function. Tissues in the respiratory system, the Fallopian tubes, and the Eustachian tubes are lined with cilia--microscopic hair-like structures that extend out from the surface of many animal cells. A central role attributed to these ciliated tissues is to effectively clear out toxic molecules and undesirable microbes; in work performed largely by Dr. Janna Nawroth (now at Emulate, Inc., Boston) and co-led by Dr. McFall-Ngai and Dr. Eva Kanso, a mathematical modeler at the University of Southern California (USC), these ciliated tissues are shown to also selectively recruit beneficial microbes, called symbionts.
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