Wednesday, July 24, 2013

FEMS Conference Report

I am at the Congress of European Microbiologists (FEMS 2013) in Leipzig I helped organize a session on modeling, and presented a poster on intraspecific internal nutrient heterogeneity and a talk on bet hedging in yeast. This is a very interesting meeting and I am learning a lot about microbiology. Let me tell you about one thing that stands out to me. You know, there is now a lot of realization on the role of the gut bacteria (microbiome) on human health. A couple of people presented research linking (pretty conclusively in my mind) the biodiversity in the gut to obesity and infection risk. Those are important and interesting problems, but I am not a medical person so my interests are more in the tools they are using. In one experiment they took germ-free mice and inoculated them with various bacteria. Wow! I wish we could do this with our environmental systems. I mean, can I have a few sterile Charles Rivers that I can inoculate with different bacteria? Please? Of course, we can make lab experiments, but those don’t include any of the complexities of the real system. Whole lake experiments can be and are done (e.g. at the Experimental Lake Area in Canada), but there we are limited to simple perturbations – we don’t have direct control of the microbe population. I think because of these types of experimental capabilities (and also availability of funding in the medical area), some of the most exciting advances in microbial ecology in the near future will come from the medical arena. Next stop: Shanghai and Lake Taihu.

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