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Proceedings from May 31, 2017 COMS meeting

Reported by Victor J. DiRita, PhD; Chair, Council on Microbial Sciences (COMS)

In June 2017, the Council on Microbial Sciences (COMS) held its inaugural meeting, thereby establishing a new dynamic governance structure that will represent the entire Society and promote and advance the microbial sciences.  COMS drives the science behind the organization—it is the foundry of ideas for the science of microbiology—and will advise the Board of Directors and work with program committees.

As befits a body representing the broad spectrum of microbial sciences, COMS has over 90 members and includes Councilors from Branches and Divisions, Interdisciplinary Councilors, At-Large Councilors, ASM officers, the Chair of the Academy Board of Governors, Program Board/Committee Chairs, and the ASM CEO.

To allow the group to work effectively and efficiently, some governing principles were established. With me and Paul D. Brown as newly-elected Chair and Vice-Chair, respectively, the group got down to business.  The eight ASM Microbe meeting tracks served as convenient templates for building COMS around eight communities, and were proposed as the preliminary organizing system.  This guiding principle is just the first attempt at organization and will be further discussed and amended.  The clear intention is that ad hoc groups and subcommittees will emerge to address cross-cutting interests like undergraduate education, diversity in science, funding issues, and publishing. Extensive cross-pollination among the scientific disciplines is strongly encouraged! 


As a reminder, the eight tracks are:

Antimicrobial Agents and Resistance (AAR)

Applied and Environmental Science (AES)

Clinical Infections and Vaccines (CIV)

Clinical and Public Health Microbiology (CPHM)

Ecological and Evolutionary Science (EES)

Host-Microbe Biology (HMB)

Molecular Biology and Physiology (MBP)

Profession of Microbiology (POM)


COMS members were asked to identify a track to discuss and break into groups accordingly.  Each group was charged with:

  • Determining three or four important areas or trends in each track
  • Discussing how ASM can influence and capture opportunities to move those trends forward for the microbial sciences
  • Looking at areas such as advocacy, recognition in the field, and workforce issues


The findings of these groups are detailed below

After each group reported, we advised that the members should now think about how to advance some of the concepts discussed, engage each other via virtual meetings, and prioritize the way forward with common themes.  Paul encouraged members to communicate across tracks.

Peggy Cotter, who became ASM President on July 1, commented that the discussions held in this first COMS meeting establish the way forward for ASM. She asked COMS members to get involved and seek input from their colleagues.

With these important steps behind us, we now look to our members for feedback and thoughts.  To this end, I want to reiterate Peggy’s suggestion that you reach out to your colleagues, and to your COMS representatives, to discuss where you think COMS can have its greatest impact.  What hot new areas are emerging that the Society should be addressing?  And how should we do so?  Where are there new opportunities to promote our science, and to engage with each other within and across disciplines?    COMS members are rolling up our sleeves for the work ahead, and we need you to become involved.   This is your Society, and COMS is your voice within it.    



Track 1—Antimicrobial Agents and Resistance and Track 2—Clinical Infections and Vaccines 

Key trends:

1) Antimicrobial resistance and drug/vaccine development, especially finding agents that penetrate both(?) membranes

  • Play a key role to link people, ideas, and resources
  • Develop a portal or website to bring together those with common research goals, e.g., medicinal chemists, microbiologists, microbial physiologists, pharmacologists, and compounds
  • Use the same framework for vaccine development for immunologists, pharma, biotech, microbiologists to link to actigens, antigens, animals, and the knowledge
  • Use the same framework for microbiome research, e.g., biorepositories of biological specimens, researchers who do microbiology or microbiome sciences

2) Microbiome and microbiome sciences

3) Advocacy

  • Greater need for advocacy, not just society based, but at the individual level

4) Education

  • Need to market microbial sciences to younger generations
  • Produce 20-second videos about meeting the microbiologist
  • Have lectures with basic content in microbiology for high school students, undergraduates, graduate students, medical students, and fellows in infectious disease
  • Have videos with tutorials summarizing the American Academy of Microbiology and all the publications; watching instead of reading
  • Provide short-term research experiences or symposia geared toward medical students


Track 3—Applied and Environmental Science Mike McInerney and Rebecca Ferrell reported

Key trends:

1) Basic human needs—food, water, energy, health, and climate change

  • Influence disease propagation
  • Microbes are part of the climate change
  • Losing some constituents that are important for these groups, particularly the engineers
  • Loss of community and interaction
  • Make sure that posters in this track are well attended to keep the younger scientists wanting to come back
  • Start an online newsletter to interact and post new issues
  • Develop microbiology in developing nations, e.g., microbiologists without  borders with a forum where members could interact with expertise around the world
  • Develop community-wide resources to accompany this
  • Educate engineers about the language and jargon of this track because we don’t speak the same language
  • Issues around publishing because the issues are not very exciting
  • Environmental health intersects with public health, where we can make a great connection
  • Could invite engineers to ASM meetings and attend their meetings
  • Local or regional meetings could be very effective and less expensive
  • ASM as a clearinghouse for experts and listserves
  • They miss the mixers at the meeting.


Track 4—Clinical and Public Health Microbiology – Tom Thomson reported

Key trends:

  • Met last week as the first in a series of track retreats
  • Sent a survey to clinical colleagues and had them professionally evaluated and interpreted the survey during the meeting
  • Three areas needing attention over the next four years:

1) Advocacy

  • Scientific and regulatory advocacy and advocacy for the workforce
  • Contract or hire scientific writer to respond quickly to the issues that impact the microbiology field

2) Communications

  • Includes both inside and outside of ASM
  • No one in the group was familiar with how this track’s scientific program was planned this year.
  • Should be communicated clearly to all of the membership
  • Outside of ASM, the public needs to know who we are and the importance of our work.

3) Workforce issues

  • Large number of peers retiring, i.e., technologists, and fewer people coming in trained at the bottom end
  • Provide training in the labs
  • Alert high school students, college students, and graduate students to all the technical career opportunities available
  • Disseminate minutes from this meeting and have a follow up conference call for this track
  • Tracks who have retreats should give a summary of how they’re doing
  • Develop goals and timelines for those goals
  • Give COMS an update every year


Track 5—Ecological and Evolutionary Science Jay Lennon and Siobain Duffy reported

Key trends:

  • This is an area of research that will continue to grow over the coming years.
  • Concepts of ecology and evolutionary biology tap into tools like genomics, metagenomics, experimental evolution, and address a range of important questions such as climate change and Microbiome
  • The importance of Microbiome—understanding species interaction, exchange of resources, and potential for co-evolutionary relationships to arise among microbiomes and their host organisms
  • Emerging diseases, disease ecology, disease evolution
  • Determine why there are so few people who self-identify as belonging to a group of ecology and evolutionary biologists
  • Attract and retain new individuals in this track
  • Find out how other societies or meetings attract people and how to attract them to ASM
  • Two conflicting things:

v If we’re going to have the best work in all aspects of microbiology and be attractive for attending Microbe, EES is an area where we need to invest and bring people and the best and most exciting research into the fold.

v Words in other tracks have roots in ecology and evolution, determine what we can do to make sure that as people use the tools and apply it that they’re doing it the best way possible. Generate training and workshops and develop best practices available online.

  • Will discuss the issues further at the fall track retreat


Track 6—Host Microbe Biology

Key trends:

  • Had a diverse group of people in this track, i.e., representatives from FDA, USDA, four virologists, one who studies TB, and one who works on fungi
  • Better integration of different members of the microbiology field into the meeting
  • Advocate outside of the Society to other societies and scientists to get them interested in what we are doing
  • Create areas of topics of common interest, i.e., how microbes have been used for treating cancer, how microbiology is involved in cardiac disease
  • Difficulty of incorporating translational medicine and translational immunology into the Microbe meeting
  • People get more value and are more comfortable at smaller meetings.
  • Microbe is expensive for some and super large; may be keeping some people away.
  • Look at interdisciplinary aspects of microbiology and have smaller meetings
  • Record plenary sessions and have them available on the website to purchase, either individually or as a package to include several sessions
  • Develop tools to better study single cell interactions between microbes and single cells and to understand the cellular response to microbes
  • Quantifying biology—the movement from a mostly descriptive field into having actual numbers and training students and postdocs in this area
  • Include all of the microbes that might be present in microbiome

Track 7—Molecular Biology and Physiology (MBP) Sean Crosson reported

Key trends:

 1) Service

  • Why would someone want to join ASM?
  • Use to be for journal subscriptions, etc.
  • Not the reason for the next generation
  • What can we offer the next generation?
  • Provide ways for students to engage with industry, biotech, pharma to learn about diverse careers
  • Provide information on what we do in this track
  • Offer career insight to young members and to the industrial sector
  • Tracks could use MicroNow as a forum to engage members into microbiology
  • Advancing the field requires communication and engagement and getting feedback

 2) The Frontiers

  • Cultivation approach to access more of the microbial diversity
  • Data science continues to be a frontier; consider workshops in the future
  • Imaging and technological advances; continue to offer workshops and add meetings at ASM with companies who make products to help in this area


Track 8—Profession of Microbiology (POM) Jeff Maloy reported

Key trends:

1) Quantitative biology/systems biology—programs in place that work well but could be expanded:

  • Workshops on quantitative biology methods
  • Education programs
  • Undergraduate education at ASMQUE

2) Membership relevance to members at all levels including students—ideas for programs:

  • Engage and recruit new members, especially undergraduates, graduate students, and early career scientists
  • Staff support to develop regular questionnaires for members to determine what needs are and are not being met
  • Communicate to members via Branches, i.e. “boots on the ground”
  • Ask distinguished lecturers at Branch meetings to get feedback from students and attendees about what they want and what they think could be provided for them
  • Reinstate the practice at Microbe that presenters list three take-away lessons from their talks to capture the attention of all members including students and ensure students feel welcome at sessions outside of their field and feel to cross different track 

3)  Industry and non-academic careers—ideas for programs:

  • Provide information on a variety of careers for students and assist with onboarding students into these careers
  • Institute an e-mentoring program, which can be difficult that should happen at the Branch level
  • Provide resources for local groups, i.e., speaker bureau, local chapters
  • To add value to the difficulties faced by e-mentoring, produce ten-minute videos like virtual field trips to be available online as a resource
  • Have a booth at Microbe where members could record themselves talking about their career and what they do and make available as another online resource
  • Provide resources for faculty members and career centers to share with students who are looking for information on non-academic careers, e.g., preparing a successful resume for an industry position
  • Have a job fair at Microbe where students could interact with industry reps, talk about jobs, hand in their resume