Inaugural lecture will explore some microbes’ invisible war on humans

Monday, September 26, 2016

Foundation Distinguished Professor Bill Picking works in his laboratory. LAWRENCE — Microbes can be destructive intruders when given the opportunity. Foundation Distinguished Professor William Picking wants people to know that individuals are often at war with this unseen enemy and the battlefield is their own body.

Picking, Foundation Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry and one of the top authorities on virulence, will deliver his inaugural lecture, “The Invisible War: Battles Between the Body and its Microbial Invaders,” at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 29, in the Jayhawk Room of the Kansas Memorial Union. The public is welcome.

His talk will examine the continual interactions that occur between humans and microbes with a focus on the internal biological conflicts that humans face when struggling with infectious disease.

“Microbiology affects people in many ways,” said Picking, who has made major advances in the study of the pathogenesis of Shigella, disease-causing bacteria that are a major concern in developing countries. “Microbes are all around us, all the time, and we are thus always interacting. Most of our interactions are good and beneficial to both sides, but at times we are at war with each other, and that’s most often seen as infectious diseases. We are armed to fight pathogens, but they have their own arsenals that they have evolved to overcome our defenses. I will discuss the back and forth between humans and pathogens as we have co-evolved to fight an ongoing ‘invisible war.’”

Picking, whose formal training is in pathogenic microbiology, has worked closely with his wife, Professor of Pharmaceutical Chemistry Wendy Picking, in developing novel vaccine strategies for bacterial pathogens that are serious causes of diarrheal disease in the developing world. Together they have accumulated well over $10 million in external research support, primarily from the National Institutes of Health, for understanding the molecular basis for bacterial virulence. He has also been active in numerous different roles within NIH-sponsored Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (CoBRE) programs. Picking has served on nearly 20 NIH review panels, serving as panel chair on multiple occasions. He has been active at numerous levels in the American Society for Microbiology.

He has nearly 100 publications in leading scientific journals, and he is recognized as a world expert in bacterial virulence factors collectively referred to as type III secretion systems. He serves on the editorial board of the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Research and is an associate editor for the journal Frontiers in Microbiology. He recently collaborated with Guy Tran Van Nhieu of the College de France on “Cell and Molecular Biology of Shigella,” a special issue of Frontiers. He is co-editor, along with Wendy Picking, of a new book, “Shigella: Molecular and Cellular Biology.”

Picking, who rejoined the KU faculty as a Foundation Distinguished Professor in 2014, is founder of the Kansas Vaccine Institute and director of the Higuchi Biosciences Center, which leads the biomedical research effort on KU’s Lawrence campus. From 2009 to 2014 he was head of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Oklahoma State University. Picking was on the faculty of KU’s Department of Molecular Biosciences from 1990 to 2009. Before arriving at KU, he spent eight years as a faculty member in the Department of Biology at Saint Louis University.

He has received numerous honors during his career. He received the KU Center for Teaching Excellence Outstanding Teacher Award, the William C. Wright Graduate Mentor Award, the W.T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence and the K. Barbara Schowen Undergraduate Research Mentor Award.

Picking earned a doctorate in microbiology from KU in 1989 and a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Kansas State University in 1984. He was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Texas at Austin.

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