Many graduate students call the lab their second home. I was fortunate enough to have a second “lab home”. Today, we meet Stéphane Benoit, a microbiologist from my second “lab home” who has taught me much of what I know about working with the stomach bacterium Helicobacter pylori.
Growing up in the French village of Saint Pierre La Palud near Lyon, Stéphane has spent countless hours observing the social behavior of ants in the woods. He has always been interested in the sciences, especially biology. After obtaining his Ph.D. from the National Institute of Applied Sciences of Lyon, Stéphane came to the United States for what he thought was a two-year postdoc to study metal utilization in spirochetes at the University of Georgia.
Name: Dr. Stéphane Benoit
Job title: Associate Research Scientist
Institution: University of Georgia; Athens, GA, USA
Facebook: Science is beautiful
Lo and behold, he stayed for 18 years! After finishing his postdoc, Stéphane joined another lab to work on metal-containing enzymes in H. pylori. Despite all these years in the lab, even the simplest experiments still hold profound enjoyment. While many of the experiments in the lab are often unpredictable, Stéphane finds ease and satisfaction in cloning and making mutants. Though he has made several hundreds of mutants, Stéphane hasn’t tired of the magic of bringing DNA fragments he has pieced together into life. Every day in the lab is different. Some days are filled with bacterial culture work, while others focus more on molecular biology, grant writing, publications and meetings. Other days, he will visit elementary or middle schools to talk about microbiology or teach undergraduate microbiology courses.
Besides working with H. pylori, Stéphane also works on multidrug resistant Salmonella enterica Typhimurium and Klebsiella pneumoniae. All of these organisms cause significant disease in humans and pose a serious global health issue particularly with the emergence of multidrug resistance. H. pylori is found in over half of the worlds population and yet, only a fraction of these individuals are symptomatic. Many microbiologists have pondered whether H. pylori can be considered as part of the human microbiome. Stéphane is particularly excited by the recent advances in microbiome research and how we are now starting to connect our microbial partners to our health. Stéphane says, “biologically speaking, it also redefines us. It means that rather than being only human, we are in fact part humans, part microbes.”
Lately, Stéphane has been photographing his experiments and sharing the collection of images on Facebook. Bacterial cultures, DNA and protein gels, and lab supplies all hold intrinsic artistry that can be enjoyed by all. Stéphane thinks that “even if you don’t necessarily understand the experiment, you can still appreciate the aesthetical beauty of it.” And as scientists who work in the lab day in and day out, we too may overlook the artistic value of what surrounds us.
Outside the lab, you can find Stéphane on the soccer field. He has a national soccer coaching license and coaches 8-12 year olds at the local club academy.
Stéphane’s microbial doppelgänger: Helicobacter pylori
Perhaps Stéphane chose the perfect lab to fit his microbial persona. Cooking and good food have always played an important part of his life growing up in France. When not busy with experiments in the lab, Stephane loves to make French pastries such as brioches and macarons. Though Stéphane admits his microbial doppelgänger may be a bit biased, he also asks, “why not be the bacterium that is the first one to access the good food your host is having?”
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