Scientists, alumnus develop fruitful collaboration

A. Sue Weisler

Microbiological research in RIT’s Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences is thriving in André Hudson’s, right, and Michael Savka’s, left, lab. Alumnus Han Ming Gan collaborates with his former professors on projects that hold potential economic and medical impact.

Connections Han Ming Gan ’08 (biotechnology) made with two of his RIT College of Science professors have shaped his career half way around the world and transformed him from their promising student to a valued colleague.

Gan, a research fellow in the School of Science at Monash University Malaysia, is an expert in next-generation genetic sequencing. Collaborations between Gan and his former professors, André Hudson and Michael Savka, have led to an explosion of microbiological research in RIT’s Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences. Their research findings could influence the development of new antibiotics, bacteria that degrades toxic compounds and solutions to a common grape disease.

Gan returned to RIT as a visiting professor last May to work on several projects and to give a seminar to Savka’s students in his Plants, Medicine and Technology class and talk with students working in Hudson’s and Savka’s lab.

“Ming has been instrumental in spiking excitement and enabling new technologies of next-generation whole genome sequencing of bacteria to our collaborations,” Savka said. “Over the last four years, we have or are currently determining the whole genome sequences of over 60 different bacterial genomes.”

Gan contributed to research findings from Hudson’s lab recently published in Frontiers of Microbiology that point to a new target of antibacterial compounds.

“Ming worked on a project with my team accessing a particular enzyme involved in bacterial cell wall and amino acid metabolism as a target for antibiotic development,” Hudson said.

In another project, Gan, Savka, Hudson and Hazel Barton, from the University of Akron, analyzed bacteria that can chemically convert and degrade toxic compounds. Their research findings, recently published in Genome Announcements, describes the whole genome sequences of five bacteria isolated from deep within the caves located in the Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.

Gan and Savka are at work on a new paper describing the microbiome, or community of bacteria, that enables grape crown tumor disease to infect vineyards. Their work includes multiple samples from 16 grapevine species. The infected grape species were grown in five geographical locations and on four continents: North America, Europe, Africa and Asia.

“Mike and I had a long catching up in a Starbucks café,” Gan recalled, when they were both in Denver, for the 2013 American Society for Microbiology conference. “We talked about our old project—the characterization of bacteria isolated from a grapevine tumor. That’s when I had the idea of doing this study using next-generation DNA sequencing. Instead of just focusing on a specific isolate, why not ask the question, what else is in the tumor? What are they doing there?”

Savka attributes a shared philosophy about science with Gan that reinforces their RIT collaborations.

“Every time we meet or talk, potential projects are developed, existing ones refined or furthered with a new perspective,” Savka said. “It’s absolutely remarkable and exciting for us.”

RIT professors André Hudson and Michael Savka, and alumnus Han Ming Gan, left to right, take a selfie with undergraduates Alexander Triassi and Matthew Wheatley, in back, at a meeting at RIT before heading to the American Society for Microbiology conference in Boston in May 2014.

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