Philadelphia — Dr. Zhi Ren, a current NIDCR R90 postdoctoral trainee within the Center for Innovation & Precision Dentistry (CiPD) – Penn Dental Medicine’s collaborative center with Penn Engineering — was awarded the 2022 American Society for Microbiology (ASM)’s Early Career Symposium (ECS) Best Presentation Award. The award was presented as part of the ASM Conference on Biofilms, held in Charlotte, N.C., this fall. Dr. Ren was among the nine finalists pre-selected to present their research at the pre-conference ECS session, sponsored by the Mark Shirtliff Foundation, where he won and was invited to present again during the main conference.
A postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Hyun (Michel) Koo’s and Dr. Kathleen Stebe’s groups, Dr. Ren’s research focuses on understanding how bacterial and fungal pathogens interact in the oral cavity to form a sticky plaque biofilm on teeth, which gives rise to severe childhood tooth decay that affects millions of children worldwide. In his recent project, for which he received the award from ASM, Dr. Ren discovered that bacteria and fungi naturally present in the saliva of toddlers with severe decay can form superorganisms able to “walk” and “leap” on tooth surfaces. These unusual abilities allow the microbial assemblages to spread faster and farther than either organism alone, causing more extensive tooth decay.