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Microbiologist Dennis Bazylinski Elected Fellow

Posted: April 9, 2014

School of Life Sciences director Dennis Bazylinksi was recently named a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology (AAM). Eighty-eight microbiologists were elected to Fellowship this year. Fellows of the Academy are elected annually through a highly selective, peer-review process based on their record of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology. Fellows of the AAM represent all subspecialties of microbiology, including basic and applied research, teaching, public health, industry, and government service.

Read more about Bazylinski's research interests as well as his interest's outside of work.

Growing up: Malden, Mass., a suburb of Boston.

Degrees: B.S. and M.S. degrees in biology at Northeastern University. Ph.D. in microbiology from University of New Hampshire.

Rebel since: 2006

When did you know you wanted to be a microbiologist? It was a difficult decision since I loved all fields of biology. While I was writing my master’s thesis, I taught high school for a year, which is when I decided to make microbiology my choice of study. My thesis also involved a microbiological study so I was sort of indoctrinated.

Has it been what you expected? It has gone way beyond what I expected. I thought I would end more as a teacher at a small school doing very little research. I was shocked when my research took off.

What has surprised you about the field? I was involved in the study of magnetotactic bacteria when there was only one lab in the world (University of New Hampshire) where it was the focus. I watched those studies on magnetotactic bacteria turn into a bona fide research field with researchers from all over the world now studying magnetotactic bacteria. I suppose that it happened is not so surprising but the fact that it took so long for it to happen was surprising to me. Also very surprising was the effect magnetotactic bacteria had on fields other than biology, including geology, chemistry, biomineralization, paleomagnetism, and physics. Lastly, who would have thought magnetotactic bacteria would have been linked to a Martian meteorite (ALH84001) and the origin of life.

Research interests: Magnetotactic bacteria are aquatic bacteria that are motile and swim using a structure called a flagellum, sort of a string that rotates that is made of protein and propels the bacteria in water. Each magnetotactic bacterial cell contains a number of “magnetosomes” which are Nano-sized magnetic crystals of the minerals magnetite (Fe3O4) or greigite (Fe3S4). The crystals are usually organized as a chain within the cell and cause the cell to align along the Earth’s magnetic field lines just like a compass needle. This alignment is passive, meaning the cell cannot control, and even dead cells will align. So in nature, magnetotactic bacteria swim back and forth along the Earth’s magnetic field lines like living, motile, miniature compass needles (this is called magnetotaxis). It is thought that magnetotaxis helps magnetotactic bacteria find a location in natural aquatic environments that has the proper chemical conditions for their survival and growth.

What do you enjoy most about your work? I still and will always continue to enjoy simply watching the bacteria under a microscope respond to a magnet. (You can make the bacteria go wherever you want on a microscope slide simply by manipulating them with a magnet). In addition, it is very gratifying to isolate and grow a new, previously unknown species of magnetotactic bacteria, something my lab has excelled in.

People would be surprised to know: That I am going on the 8th year as the director (chair) of the School of Life Sciences. Also, my second choice for a career was music and I have played semi-professionally for a long time. I have a literal arsenal of instruments, but now focus on playing electric bass.

Outside of work: My favorite activity here in the Las Vegas area and one reason I came here is the hiking. The wildlife is spectacular and one of my hobbies is herpetology, the study of reptiles and amphibians. So when I hike I spend some time chasing down lizards, snakes, and so on. I was a long distance runner for much of my life but do not have the time to put in the mileage I used to when I was younger, but I still enjoy running.