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World Expert on Bird Flu at Major Otago Conference

Tuesday 22 November 2005

World Expert on Bird Flu to talk at Major Otago Conference

Avian Flu will be high on the list of research topics to be explored at a major international microbiology gathering attended by over 350 researchers at the University of Otago this week.

World-leading avian influenza authority Professor Robert Webster, an Otago Microbiology graduate based in the St Jude Children’s Research Hospital in the USA, is one of the line-up of international experts giving presentations at this year’s New Zealand Microbiological Society (NZMS) Conference.

The conference, which celebrates the Society’s 50th anniversary, kicks off today and runs until to Friday 25 November and will be attended by researchers from New Zealand and around the world, says conference co-convener, Dr Greg Cook, of the University’s Microbiology & Immunology Department.

Prof Webster, a noted virologist who heads a team which monitors, analyses and creates vaccines for new animal flu viruses in Asia, will deliver a public lecture on avian flu at 7pm on Wednesday 23 at the University’s St David Lecture Theatre, as well as a plenary lecture on the Friday.

Dr Cook says having someone of Prof Webster’s international standing attend the gathering, which brings together leading researchers in the fields of microbiology, immunology and molecular biology, is a ‘real coup’.

Key topics being explored during the conference sessions, which begin tomorrow, include infectious immunity, the molecular basis of disease, food and water microbiology, comparative genomics of disease, antimicrobial biotechnology, molecular virology, cellular stress and oral microbiology, he says.

Among the international plenary speakers is Dr Joseph Ferretti of the University of Oklahoma, a leading microbiologist who successfully mapped the genome of streptococcus, a bacterium responsible for a host of human illnesses.

Dr Ferretti’s groundbreaking work has paved the way for new treatments for diseases such as strep throat, rheumatic fever, impetigo, pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome, blood poisoning, scarlet fever and the deadly flesh-eating disease, necrotising fasciitis.

Other international plenary speakers include molecular bacteriologist Professor Robert Poole of the University of Sheffield, and microbial diversity specialist Professor Steve Giovannoni of Oregon State University.

Around 200 papers will be presented during the conference’s technical sessions, says Dr Cook.

Professor John Tagg of the University’s Microbiology & Immunology Department will deliver one of his action-packed talks as NZMS orator on Thursday, when he will share the story of his 30 year passion for researching streptococci. Prof Tagg founded biotechnology start-up BLIS Technologies Ltd, based on his innovative research.

The conference, which is being held in conjunction with the New Zealand Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, runs until midday Friday at the University's Castle Lecture Theatre complex.

Following the conference, a two-day gathering for Microbiology Alumni of Otago University is also being held.

For more information about the conference programme visit:


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