Hear the wisdom of the squid whisperer

SfAM was delighted to host Margaret McFall-Ngai to present the annual Environmental Microbiology Lecture- Waging peace: establishment and maintenance of stable alliances between animals and their microbial partners

Margaret McFall-Ngai (University of Hawaii, Manoa) is a celebrated pioneer and global trailblazer in the field of animal microbe interactions. Her passionate research into the relationship between a host and its microbiome has challenged established microbiological concepts and fuelled a broader interest in beneficial microbes.

For the past twenty-seven years, she’s focused on the squid-vibrio (Euprymna scolopes-Vibrio fischeri) light organ system as a model to approach the wider question of how two species, from very different phylogenetic origins, manage to form a persistent relationship.

The bacteria reside in a two-chambered organ on the squid’s belly and emit light that the squid uses as protective camouflage from predators. The bacteria receive easy access to nutrients from the squid in return.

“We now know that microbes make up the vast diversity of the biosphere, and that animal biology was shaped by interacting with microbes,” McFall-Ngai says. “In my mind, this is the most significant revolution in biology since Darwin.”


Over a decade ago, when infectious-disease researchers were the mainstay for the American Society for Microbiology, she persuaded the organization to run its first meeting on beneficial microbes. This meeting continues to be a success to this day.

Dianne Newman, a geobiologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena has no doubt about McFall-Ngai’s influence:

“She pioneered work on animal–microbe interactions well before everyone caught up and the microbiome became such a sexy topic.”

In addition to kick-starting an increased interest in the microbiome, McFall-Ngai is no stranger to shaping policy, having served on a National Academy of Sciences committee convened by President Barack Obama to help shape the direction of biology in the United States in the 21st century.

You can watch Margaret McFall-Ngai’s Environmental Microbiology Lecture here:

This was a FREE event for SfAM Members.

You can join SfAM at member.sfam.org.uk.

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