Biologist Margaret Riley to Present Distinguished Faculty Lecture Calling for a Balanced New Approach to Antibiotics

Margaret Riley

AMHERST, Mass. – Biologist Margaret Riley, whose cutting-edge research on antibiotic resistance has called for a radical rethinking of the role of antibiotics in medicine, will present the final offering in this year’s Distinguished Faculty Lecture Series at the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Monday, April 13.

Her talk, titled “Rethinking the Antibiotic Arsenal: New Strategies for the Age of the Microbiome,” begins at 4 p.m. in the Goodell Building’s Bernie Dallas Room. Following her talk, Riley will receive the Chancellor’s Medal, the highest recognition given for service to the campus.

Riley’s research on antibiotics focuses not so much on individual pathogens as it does on the human “microbiome” – the entire ecological community of microorganisms hosted by the human body.

She will argue that rather than concentrating on a single antibiotic molecule that targets a spectrum of microorganisms, researchers need to “identify targeted molecules that can cripple the pathogen but leave the microbiome largely intact, and to design and deploy treatments that delay the onset of resistance mechanisms.”

She will also describe “a smart, agile approach to finding the delicate balance between pathogens and their hosts.”

Biology department chair Rolf Karlstrom says that Riley is “a fundamentally original thinker who is helping transform our understanding of microbial evolution and antibiotic resistance. Her earlier studies challenged our fundamental concepts of what a ‘species’ is and how we classify organisms in the largest kingdom of life on this planet.” He added, “Peg has been a major creative force in science education.”

Riley earned an M.S. in zoology at UMass Amherst after undergraduate work at UMass Amherst and Michigan State. She earned her Ph.D. at Harvard, working in the laboratory of noted evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin, and taught at Yale in the department of ecology and evolution. She joined the UMass Amherst faculty in 2004.

She is co-founder and co-director of the Institute for Drug Resistance, and founder and president of the Massachusetts Academy of Sciences. A recipient of the university’s Distinguished Academic Outreach Award in 2013, she was co-founder of Engage in STEM, an afterschool program engaging dozens of graduate and undergraduate students in mentoring 120 middle school students.