Published March 14, 2019
James D. Bangs, PhD, has been named a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, an honorific leadership group within the American Society for Microbiology — the world’s oldest and largest life science organization.
Bangs, the Grant T. Fisher Professor and chair of microbiology and immunology, was elected through a highly competitive, peer-review process. He was selected for his record of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology and molecular parasitology, in particular.
For more than 35 years, Bangs has conducted research on African trypanosomes — single-celled parasites transmitted by the tsetse fly, which cause African sleeping sickness in humans — an often fatal, re-emerging disease throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
His pioneering research specializes in the biochemistry and cell biology of African trypanosomes and their secretory processes; it has illuminated the biosynthesis and trafficking of key virulence factors in this important human and veterinary parasite.
Bangs explained that because trypanosomes are eukaryotic cells, organized similarly to every cell in the human body, treatment of infection is not unlike cancer treatment in that chemotherapy against the parasite has harsh consequences for the patient.
However, since infection is invariably fatal without intervention, new, more specific drugs are desperately needed. The goal of Bangs’ research is to define aspects of trypanosomal secretory processes that may provide novel pathways to new drugs to treat African sleeping sickness.
Bangs has mentored dozens of microbiology students in his laboratory. Further, he has organized the premier international meeting in his discipline — the Molecular Parasitology Meeting at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts — and has taught hundreds of developing scientists globally as lecturer, instructor and director of the Biology of Parasitism course at the MBL.
His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1994, and he served as an ad hoc and permanent member of the NIH Pathogenic Eukaryotes Study Section.
Additionally, he has served on the editorial boards of two of the field’s main journals, Eukaryotic Cell and Molecular and Biochemical Parasitology.
A faculty member of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences since 2013, Bangs was previously on the faculty of the University of Wisconsin, where he was a trainer for its microbiological doctoral training program.
The mission of the American Academy of Microbiology (AAM) is to recognize scientists for outstanding contributions to microbiology and provide microbiological expertise in the service of science and the public. Fellows of the AAM are elected annually for their excellence, originality and leadership in the microbiological sciences.
Over the last 50 years, over 2,500 distinguished scientists from around the world have been elected to the AAM; this year, the academy selected 109. Bangs is among fellows from countries including France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Israel, Korea, Taiwan, China and the U.S.
Fellows represent all subspecialties of the microbial sciences and are involved in basic and applied research, teaching, public health, industry and government service.
Bangs will be officially inducted as a fellow at the American Society for Microbiology’s annual meeting in June.