Scientific Program

The 2015 ASM Biodefense and Emerging Diseases Research Meeting will feature keynote sessions, roundtable discussions, focus sessions, and plenary sessions that will present the latest findings for those carrying out the research to defend against the growing threats of bioterrorism and emerging infectious diseases.

View preliminary session titles and descriptions below, and check back for the full 2015 Scientific Program.



Alternate Careers in Biodefense: Expanding the Horizons
As traditional career opportunities in Biodefense such as bench and applied research narrow, an increasing number of highly qualified people are seeking alternate careers in which to utilize their training, skills and interests.  This workshop will feature presentations by, and discussions with, a number of scientifically trained individuals who have selected alternate careers. The participants will describe their training, post-graduate experiences and how they ultimately transitioned into non-traditional career paths.



Are Filoviruses Co-Evolving with Their Receptor, Niemann-Pick C1, in Bats?
Topical Category:  Viral Agents (A), Immune Response (I)

Bats serve as a major wild‐life reservoir for many highly pathogenic zoonotic viruses that infect humans. Why and how many bat species can seemingly tolerate viruses that are otherwise lethal in humans remains unknown. The sequencing of several bat (Order Chiroptera) genomes, and other technological advances, including the generation of an increasing number of bat cell lines, have allowed for systems biology level analyses of these Chiropteran cell lines in response to synthetic and viral inducers of innate immune responses. The ability to compare gene polymorphisms between many bat species has also revealed evidence for natural Ebola virus restriction that may impact on virus evolution in Chiropteran hosts.  The recent Ebola virus epidemic in West Africa, as well as the most recent evidence for spillover of Henipaviruses into the human populations in Africa, underscores the relevance and timeliness of this session. It will be of broad interest for microbiologists to learn about the latest developments in this area.


Infectious Disease Emergence and Re-Emergence Influenced by Conflict and Climate
Topical Category: Viral Agents (A), Immune Response (I)

Climatic, demographic and environmental changes are all stirring a “hornet’s nest” of disease agents that can emerge and re-emerge to cause widespread human maladies.  Using contemporary viral and bacterial disease examples we aim to show the gravity of such events, the frequent interplay between these changes and outbreak severity, and seek answers to common questions.  Are there specific factors within or across these dynamics that are identifiable as drivers of outbreaks?  Can we combine knowledge of these factors with epidemiological data to engineer systems to reliably predict re-emergences?  Can we formulate a plan to mitigate the influence of climate change and conflict on emerging and re-emerging disease, and if so, do we have the leverage to act upon it?


Microbial Hackers: Pathogen Subversion of Host Cell Processes
Topical Category: Viral Agents (A), Bacterial Agents (B)

Studies on pathogen survival and success often focus on mechanisms of suppression or evading host immune responses. It is becoming increasingly apparent that microbial manipulation of host cell metabolic processes is a fundamental property of highly successful pathogens. Metabolic manipulation releases nutrients that can be utilized by the pathogen as well as limit or restrict critical host processes and immune response capabilities. Identifying host metabolic processes that are critical to pathogen survival can reveal novel host targets that may be used as therapeutics. Studies such as these also impact the broad fields of microbial pathogenesis, physiology, and immunology.


The Devil is in the Details: Deep Sequencing of Viral Populations for Insight into Virus Evolution and Emergence
Topical Category: Viral Agents (A)

It is well established that minor variants in intra-host viral populations supply a mechanism for resistance to therapeutics. However the role of viral quasispecies in cross species transmission and emergence is just now being explored. Studies have shown that a change in viral phenotype is not always accompanied by a change in the viral consensus sequence, and that ultra rare variants present in one species may provide opportunities for rapid adaptation to a new host species. This session would examine how new deep sequencing technology provides opportunities for understanding virus evolution and emergence.



BWAs in the Environment
Topical Category: Bacterial Agents (B)

Typically, studies into the biology of biowarfare agents (BWAs) are undertaken in pure culture in the laboratory, or in animal infection models. However, this does not represent how microbes exist in the environment. In order to understand the consequences of a release, we need to understand whether BWAs would persist in the environment, where and how they would persist, and how they could be inactivated to make the environment safe again. This requires imaginative solutions to allow the safe study of dangerous pathogens in complex environments, more closely representing the environment. This is the context in which your presentation will fit.


Clinically Relevant Transmission of Microbes by Aerosols
Topical Category:  Viral Agents (A)

Many biothreat agents and emerging infectious diseases are transmitted via aerosols.  This session will cover the technology of experimental aerosol transmission, a comparison of experimental aerosol and parenteral delivery of agents, and several agent-specific examples of aerosol transmission.


Coronaviruses: Molecular Biology and Pathogenesis
Topical Category:  Viral Agents (A)

The coronaviruses SARS and MERS are modern examples of newly emerging infectious diseases that have had a worldwide impact.  The speakers in this session will cover a variety of topics from molecular biology of coronaviruses, animal model development, and the development of antivirals to MERS.


Current Trends in Melioidosis and Glanders Vaccine Development
Topical Categories: Vaccines (H)

Burkholderia pseudomallei  and  Burkholderia mallei are CDC Tier 1 select agents that cause melioidosis and glanders, respectively. These facultative intracellular, gram-negative pathogens are highly infectious via the respiratory route, and can cause severe, debilitating and often fatal diseases in humans and animals. Treatment of these diseases can be challenging and even with appropriate chemotherapeutic intervention, mortality rates are unacceptably high. At present, there are no human or veterinary vaccines available for immunization against melioidosis or glanders. Due to the potential misuse of B. pseudomallei  and B. mallei as agents of biological warfare and terrorism, as well as their impact on public health in endemic regions, there is significant interest in developing effective vaccines to combat disease caused by these organisms. This session will highlight some of the state of the art research aimed at the development of effective melioidosis and glanders vaccines.


Development of Point of Care Diagnostics for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Disease Needs
Topical Categories: Diagnostics (D)

The availability of clinical diagnostic tests at the point of care for patients that may present with symptoms suggestive of a biological threat could speed treatment and reduce potential morbidity and mortality.  While there are new devices and accompanying assays that may address the technical issues of such capability, there are significant other parameters that must be considered, such as how to integrate such tests into daily practice, costs, reporting of results for public health data collection, etc.  These issues will be examined in this session, using real-world examples from influenza and expanding these concepts and considerations to the larger discussion of biodefense threats and emerging infectious diseases.  We will examine these challenges from a variety of technical, logistical, regulatory and clinical perspectives to learn about how they could influence the feasibility of point of care applications under large-scale public health emergencies.


End of the (Cell) Line: Microphysiological Systems for Biodefense Research
Topical Categories: Other and Information Only (K)

In September of 2011, NIH launched a five year collaboration with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to develop 3-D human tissue chips containing bio-engineered tissue models that mimic human physiology. The aim is to use these chips to better predict the safety and effectiveness of candidate drugs (source: In this session participants will gain an understanding of the advances in human tissue engineering research and the how these systems can be used in the context of biodefense research.


Got to Eat and Run: Pathogen Subversion of Autophagy
Topical Categories: Viral Agents (A), Bacterial Agents (B)

Every successful pathogen evades host innate immune responses. One such innate immune mechanism is autophagy, which is a host cell process that degrades long lived non-essential proteins, damaged organelles, and intracellular pathogens. To survive within host cells intracellular pathogens must avoid being targeted for autophagic degradation. Recent studies have indicated that some pathogens not only avoid destruction by autophagy, but have also evolved to take advantage of the altered host cell environment that is created under conditions of increased autophagic flux. The majority of such organisms identified to date are biodefense related, or emerging pathogens.


Manipulation of Host Cell Death Pathways by Bacterial Pathogens
Topical Categories: Bacterial Agents (B)

All living things die - death is an unavoidable inevitability of our existence. At the cellular level, however, death is not quite so simple. How cells die - the causes of death and the mechanisms by which they do so - can have a profound impact on the physiology, health, and overall longevity of the organism. Multiple types of programmed cell death have been identified, each with different triggers, pathway(s) initiated, machinery used to carry out the type of death, and consequences to the organism as a whole. As our understanding of host cell death pathways increases, so does our knowledge of the mechanisms by which many pathogens influence or subvert these pathways during infection for their own benefit. Thus, the goal of this session is to discuss four major types of programmed cell death - apoptosis, pyroptosis, necroptosis, and autophagy/xenophagy - and provide examples of biodefense or emerging pathogens that manipulate each of these death pathways to cause disease. Session attendees will leave with a greater appreciation on the many and varied types of cell death, and the subversion thereof, during bacterial infections.


Molecular Events During Bacterial Pathogenesis and Disease
Topical Categories: Bacterial Agents (B), Environmental Detection (E)

The session will focus on the molecular mechanisms used by bacteria to establish infection, and survive in the host and beyond. Talks will be presented on Bacillus anthracis and Burkholderia, pathogenic species highly relevant to biodefense. We will focus on state of the art research on the mechanisms of pathogenesis, in particular the regulation of virulence factors, and the survival of organisms in the environment, prior to infecting a host. A better understanding of the mechanisms of pathogenesis and environmental persistence could be critical in identifying targets for vaccines and therapeutics, as well as strategies to prevent further infection.