Tag Archives: American Society for Microbiology General Meeting

ASM Opening Sessions

21 May

Tonight the 2011 General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology opened with “Microbes Among Us: Marvel or Menace.”

The opening session began with introductions by the current president of the organization, Dr. Bonnie Bassler from Princeton University(one of my personal heroines – so great to see her in person for the first time!).  She gave very brief introductions to each of the various award winners this year, many of whom will actually give lectures throughout the meeting at special sessions dedicated to their particular award.  It seems quite a few of the awards are sponsored by some of the big vendors at the meeting, and I realize this is not a new concept since awards have almost always been named after those who gave the money to support the award.  But for some reason, it bugs me just a little; I start to feel like science is becoming akin to pro-sports where we can’t even watch the game anymore without bombarded with advertising.   Pet peeve, I guess.

Dr. Bassler then introduced those members of the Geneal Meeting Program Committee responsible for the new format of the metting and primarily responsible for putting it all together: Dr. Margaret McFalll-Ngai and Dr. Arturo Casadevall.  At that point Dr. McFall-Ngai took over the introductions of the night’s speakers.

Sidenote: At this point I was struck by the number/proportion of those names mentioned, whether serving in some major function in the organization or listed among the award winners, who were either currently at or were in the very recent past from ivy league and top tier institutions.  I had to wonder whether this was a sort of ‘chicken or the egg’ phenomenon: were these people naturally driven and exceptionally intelligent so that they all over-acheived anyway, or did their being at these types of institutions give them greater visibility and a ‘foot-in-the-door’ with this type of organization?  Or maybe a little of both… food for thought.

Dark Energy

Dr. Nicole Dubilier from the Max Planck Institute kicked things off with a fascinating talk entitled “The Art of Harnessing Dark Energy: Symbioses Between Chemosynthetic Bacteria and Marine Invertebrates.”  Of course deep-sea hydrothermal vents are one of my favorite ecosystems to learn and teach about so I was riveted through her talk.  Even so, she really did a nice job with the presentation, neat, clear and stayed on time!


Dr. Dubilier began with her work on deep sea mussels, in which she discovered 2 different bacterial symbionts.  The first uses methane and the second uses sulfur for chemical energy to fix carbon (the same way that plants use sunlight to fix carbon).  She has some beautiful FISH (Fluorescent In-situ Hybridization) images where you could literally see the bacteria, each tagged with a different color, living within the cells of the tissues of the mussels.  Each bacteria was in a different type of tissue!

From these types of images she was also able to see another type of bacteria which she later determined to be a parasite that actually lived within the nucleus of the mussel’s cells.  Those cells that were host to either the symbiotic methane oxidizers or sulfur oxidizers, were not also host to the third parasitic bacteria.  More work is now underway to determine how the symbiotic bacteria may aid in defending against the parasitic invasions of the third bacteria.  (Here’s a link to a 2005 paper on the dual symbiosis in Applied and Environmental Microbiology)

After the initial work with the deep-sea hydrothermal mussels, her work then lead to the discovery of these very same symbionts and the parasitic bacteria in every other species of marine muscle that they’ve been able to study to date.


Dr. Dubilier has also worked extensively with gutless marine oligochaetes – the ocean’s equivalent of earthworms.  She discovered that all of these types of marine worms have 5 to 6 co-occurring bacterial symbionts which provide most of their digestive processes, and each worm species has a very specific set of the 5 to 6 bacterial symbionts.  These bacteria are located just inside the worm cuticle (a.k.a. skin), but exterior to the worm’s cells (extracellular).

This research was an interesting story in which her work involved extensive study of the proteins and genes expressed by these bacterial symbionts to determine how they were serving the worms, (i.e. what substrates they were utilizing in the environment to create biomass for the worms) then these pathways were verified by environmental measurements.  Not so long ago, environmental microbiologists would have taken extensive measurements of the environment to form hypotheses on how the microbial symbionts were serving their host, then probe for genes to verify it.  Now, with all the new tools we have available, all the new technology, we arrive at much the same answers, but we do it the other way around.

Overall, some intriguing work on not only host-symbiont interactions, but chemosynthesis as well.

Wrapping Up

There were two speakers following Dr. Dubilier: Dr. Liping Zhao of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and Dr. Susan Lindquist from the Whitehead Institute.  Dr. Zhao discussed the human gut microbiota and prevention of metabolic diseases, and Dr. Lindquist covered heat-shock proteins and their involvement in prion diseases and heritability.  Both were very interesting and I hope to be able to cover at some point in the future, but that’s it for tonight, folks.    Tomorrow things start bright an early with an entire session on the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon.


ASM New Orleans: Here we come!

19 May

The American Society for Microbiology 

Some of you may already be aware of the rapidly approaching 111th General Meeting of the American Society of Microbiology (ASM) in New Orleans, May 21st through the 24th.  I’m pretty excited to say this will be my very first opportunity to attend the ASM meeting.  This may be a little surprising considering the fact that if you have any idea what this blog is all about, you know that Microbiology is what I do, it’s what I study, immerse myself in, and it’s what I love.

So why on earth haven’t I attended one of these meetings before?  It just so happens that my work (study, love, etc) also falls within the realm of soils, biogeochemistry, environment, and ecology, as well.  Accordingly, over the course of my professional life to date, I have only attended soils, environmental, and ecological professional meetings.  I have been advised by colleagues in the past that the ASM meetings are extremely large and primarily catered to medical/clinical and basic microbiology crowds and that I would actually glean the most useful knowledge (for my particular line of work) from the more applied meetings.

My Agenda at the ASM Meeting

This year I decided to find out for myself about the ASM General Meeting (and blog it thoroughly).  I’ve taken it as my personal mission to track down and report on as much environmental microbiology (and microbial ecology) at the meeting as I possibly can.  My cover will be as a lowly postdoc presenting a poster on my most recent work with fungi and Pb-contaminated soils.  Wish me luck!

In the meantime…

I’ve heard some talk about the new way of doing things at this year’s meeting and thought I’d look into it a little beforehand.

At the inaugural meeting of ASM  in 1899, at the time called the Society of American Bacteriologists, there were roughly 30 professionals in attendance (Miller, et al. 2010).  In recent years you can expect upwards of 10 to 15 thousand attendees in any given year with a very wide range of areas of expertise, a veritable smorgasbord of high-tech vendors, and people from all over the world, from students and undergraduates to postdocs and profs, even true, historical icons.  However, the clinical microbiology community still accounts for roughly 1/3 of the meeting’s attendance.  Obviously, there have been some big changes in the society and this year’s dynamic platform is an attempt to adjust the design and flow of the meeting to accommodate the new demographic, while still meeting the needs of the core.

This year a new mission statement for the meeting was adopted by the Society: “The ASM General Meeting showcases the central role of microbes in the biosphere by communicating today’s cutting edge science in the diverse areas influenced by microbes.” (Miller, et al. 2010) Which actually sounds quite promising, if you ask me.

Apparently, one of the most dramatic changes to the general meeting involves the number and nature of session and includes a parallel meeting, specifically tailored to the needs of the clinical microbiology community entitled “Medical Microbiology Track.”  Not exactly my cup of tea, but to each his own.

Each morning there will be only 4 concurrent sessions focused on topics of broad interest, which is a reduction in the number of session since years past.  The goal is to “showcase” inspirational interdisciplinary science with minimal overlap and maximum appeal.

That all sounds well and good, (actually it sounds pretty fantastic and exciting to the incorrigible science dork), but we’ll have to see how it all plays out in the real world.


ResearchBlogging.orgMiller JF, McFall-Ngai M, & Casadevall A (2010). A New Design for the ASM General Meeting. mBio, 1 (5) PMID: 21151775