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Dr Oded Bergman

What is your field of expertise?

As a microbial ecologist I study diversity, community structure and functional genes of various microorganisms in freshwater lakes (e.g., Legionella and microorganisms related to nitrogen and methane cycles). Another aspect of my work focuses on interactions and co-occurrence between these microorganisms. 

Tell us briefly on your academic path?

I completed my undergraduate degree in Life Sciences (Summa cum laude) and Science Education, at the Haifa University. I then went on to perform my M.Sc. in Marine Biotechnology, at the Department of Zoology, Tel Aviv University. My thesis focused on cultivation of marine based sponges, their associated bacteria, and bioactive marine natural-products. under the supervision of Prof. Ilan Micha and Prof. Hill T. Russell. I completed my P.h.D. at The Laboratory of Psychobiology, Faculty of Medicine, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology. My study focused on impaired assembly of complex-I of the respiratory chain in schizophrenia patients, under the supervision of Prof. Ben-Shachar Dorit. This was a significant deviation from my previous work. I then performed two post-docs at the Kinneret Limnological Laboratory. The first, focused on the ecology and diversity of the pathogenic bacteria Legionella in lake Kinneret and host-pathogen interactions between Legionella and its potential hosts. My second post-doc revolved around functional-genes governing the methane and nitrogen cycles in the chemocline of lake Kinneret. I use a variety of molecular tools, to study the microbiome of these microorganisms, in these ecosystems. I recently finished my second post-doc and am currently employed as a research assistant.

What type of research you do (what excites you mostly)?

I am fascinated by the way microorganisms function in the environment. What are the environmental parameters affecting their abundance? What ecological functions do they fulfil?  With who do they co-occur and interact? I am extremely interested in the microbial diversity and microbial community structure and composition, in freshwater lakes. 

To answer these questions, me and my colleagues perform observations and measure various chemical parameters to understand what are the pivotal processes that are relevant to our hypotheses. These include in-situ and in-vitro analyses of various physicochemical parameters. I then utilize qPCR, to quantify absolute abundance and Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) to study the microbiome for the relevant microorganisms. To gain a broader picture of the microbial population in the relevant environments, I target the universal 16S rRNA and 18S rRNA genes. In addition, my work focuses on various functional genes related to specific microbes (e.g., Legionella and the FEAMMOX bacterium Acidimicrobiaceae sp. strain A6) or processes related to the methane and nitrogen cycles.

What are your professional plans/ aspirations?

My goal is to open an independent lab as a principal investigator, in the field of microbial ecology. 
The lab will focus on the function of microbes related to the methane and nitrogen cycles in freshwater lakes. I also wish to study functional genes related to the Dot/Icm secretion system of the aquatic pathogenic bacterium Legionella, which affects virulence traits and Legionella ability to withstand harsh environmental conditions (e.g., high salinity).
During my first degree, I acquired a teaching diploma. I love teaching and for me, it is mainly about forming a connection with the students. I strive to motivate free thinking and creativity and enable students to communicate with me and their fellow peers, as I believe working in groups is a fundamental skill for their future development. In this respect, I am eager to mentor undergraduate students, as well as graduate student, in the lab.

How was your experience as a postdoc so far?

For me the postdoc has been an opportunity to learn what is expected from an independent principal investigator (PI). As a postdoc I was responsible for advancing the study, in all aspects. First and foremost, in relation to the study and fulfilling its goals, but at the same time in managing the budget and expenses. I strived (and believe I have succeeded) to gain a broad understanding of the research field, that extends far beyond the study questions and hypotheses at hand. At the end of the day, the most important thing in the life of a young researcher is publications. That is why I wanted to publish our finding at a very high impact journal and present them in conferences. We were able to publish the first paper in a very good Q1 journal (Microbiome IF 15.5, ranking 7/135 in the field of microbiology) and also present the work in several conferences, including in the ISME annual meeting. I am currently working on additional publications. I also tried to learn from my host PI, as much as I could, how to become a PI and what it takes to head a lab.

Can you give an advice to your younger self or a new postdoc?

The advice I would give is first and foremost perform excellent research and publish the work in the best journal possible. As I could not travel abroad for my postdoc (family health issues), I think choosing the right PI is critical and maintaining a good collaboration for future work. Publications in highly impactful journals is also critical, so keep that the first priority. One thing I will put a strong emphasis on is networking with as many people in the field as possible. Forming formal and informal connections is pivotal. This is something I sometimes struggle with and I should have done a better job at it. Finally, if one can show he can obtain a grant during his postdoc, it will be significant when applying for positions.

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What is one underappreciated thing you wish everyone knew about your research

Our research on Legionella abundance, diversity and community structure and composition was conducted on natural ecosystems (Lake Kinneret and surrounding springs). Traditionally, almost all research in this field is conducted on man-made related infrastructures. Thus, the true diversity of Legionella is underestimated and we do not get the full picture related to this genus of pathogenic bacteria.    

Can you share any professional or personal challenges that you have overcome?

As postdoc we meet and overcome professional challenges throughout our academic journey. For me the biggest challenge has been a family health related issue that prevented me from traveling abroad for my postdoc and forced me to do the post in Israel. Many positions, primarily in the university, demand a postdoc be done abroad and this is without a doubt the biggest challenge in the path I pursuit. My solution is simply to give ai all, and do the best I can. I try to do excellent science, publish in the best journals and to collaborate with excellent scientists

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