The American Academy of Microbiology Feb. 16 announced its latest cohort of Fellows, with 65 individuals, as well as four Indian Americans and one Indian-origin biology expert, comprising the class of 2021.

Among the Fellows named were Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti, Shabaana Abdul Khader, Mitzi Nagarkatti, Venigalla Rao and Brajesh Singh.

Kanneganti is a member of the faculty at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, as well as the vice chair of the immunology department and a Rose Marie Thomas endowed chair.

Her laboratory is interested in understanding how the innate immune system recognizes and responds to pathogens and how genetic mutations in innate immunity affect the development of infectious, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases in humans. 

As a founding member of the inflammasome field, Kanneganti’s lab continues to make critical contributions to this research area. The lab provided the first genetic evidence for the role of NLRP3 in inflammasome activation and established its importance in infection, inflammation and cancer, according to her St. Jude profile page.

Khader received her doctorate in biotechnology from Madurai Kamaraj University in India and then did her post-doctoral training at the Trudeau Institute in New York.

Her bio says that during her studies at Trudeau, she demonstrated a critical role for the cytokine Interleukin-17 in vaccine-induced immunity to tuberculosis, as well as described seminal roles for IL-12 cytokines in tuberculosis, her bio notes.

Khader currently holds a position at the Washington University in St. Louis, serving as an associate professor in the molecular microbiology department. She previously worked as an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Nagarkatti is of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, where she is the SmartState Endowed Chair of the Center for Cancer Drug Discovery, the Carolina Distinguished professor, and chair of the department of pathology, microbiology and immunology.

She has broad-based research interests in the areas of inflammation, cancer immunology and immunotherapy, biodefense, immunopharmacology, immunotoxicology, as well as complementary and alternative medicine, according to her profile.

Inflammation is the underlying cause of various diseases including cardiovascular, neurodegenerative and autoimmune diseases as well as obesity, aging and cancer, her bio notes.

Nagarkatti’s team is mainly using cutting-edge technology including epigenomic and genomic approaches to study various diseases both in experimental models and in patients.

The research also focuses on in silico modeling as well as use of ex vivo cultures for determining cellular and molecular mechanisms. In addition, they are studying yet another novel research area namely the dysbiosis in the microbiome in various tissues. 

She earned her bachelor’s at Bangalore University, master’s at Karnatak University, and her doctorate at the Defense R&D Establishment.

Rao is with the Catholic University of America, where he serves as a professor. His conducts research on organized packing of nucleic acids in biological systems. 

Rao’s team employs a combination of molecular genetics, recombinant DNA, biochemical and bioinformatics approaches to elucidate the mechanisms of DNA packaging. His research team has developed powerful combinatorial mutagenesis approaches to map the DNA translocating ATPase in gp17. Biochemical characterization of the gp16-gp17 complex and molecular understanding of the linkage between ATP hydrolysis and DNA movement are the principal projects in the lab, it said.

Singh is with the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University in Australia.

He is an internationally recognized expert in the field of functional ecology and soil biology. Through his fundamental research, his work identifies the quantitative relationships between soil biodiversity and ecosystem functions and how natural/anthropogenic pressures such as global change affect this, his bio notes.

Fellows of the American Academy of Microbiology, an honorific leadership group within the American Society of Microbiology, are elected annually through a highly selective, peer-review process, based on their records of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology. 

The Academy received 150 nominations this year and elected 65 into the 2021 Fellowship Class, a news release said.

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