Tuesday, 13 June 2017 12:44

Microbial Sciences at Microbe 2017

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Published in Microbial Sciences

ASM Booth 2017ASM booth at Microbe 2017.

Two years ago, the ASM General Meeting merged with the annual Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy to become Microbe, a one-stop conference covering everything from basic discoveries through applied techniques in the microbial sciences.


This year, three members of the Microbial Sciences blog team, Ada Hagan, Monika Buczek, and Jennifer Tsang, attended the Microbe meeting. Below is a summary of their favorite sessions and an overall impression of what it was like to attend the meeting, including advice for those planning on attending a future Microbe meeting.


Overall Impressions

Ada Microbe presentationAda talks about using story to describe science. Source

Ada Hagan: As a doctoral student at the University of Michigan and former Master's student at East Tennessee State University, Microbe 2017 was my fifth ASM annual meeting (third in New Orleans). In addition to presenting a poster this year, I was invited to give a workshop on communicating your science as a story. Which leads me to one of my favorite additions to Microbe, the expansion of sessions into science advocacy, communication, and non-academic careers.

In addition to the standard science talks, this year’s Microbe featured a panel discussion between Mary Woolley, President and CEO of Research America; Bill Novelli, former AARP CEO; and Stefano Bertuzzi, current ASM CEO. During the plenary session, the panel encouraged attending scientists to engage non-scientists and policy makers by sharing their expertise in an approachable manner. My main takeaway was to stop shying away from engaging interest and emotion through storytelling. Another session and panel discussion on science policy and microbiology featured congressional staffers and advocates. There were also multiple sessions featuring non-academic careers, the highlight of which was the keynote with virologist turned NASA astronaut, Kate Rubins.


Monika presents at MicrobeMonika gives a 10 minute poster talk in the MBP (Molecular Biology and Physiology) Track Hub. Photo by David Jeruzalmi.

Monika Buczek: As a graduate student studying microbiology in the lab of Anuradha Janakiraman at the City University of New York and an ASM member for many years, this was, surprisingly, my first ASM conference. I came to Microbe 2017 to soak up the science, and I spent a large portion of my time in scientific sessions and browsing the poster hall. One of my favorite parts of Microbe 2017 were the “lounge and learn” hubs set up around the conference hall, where people could comfortably relax, charge their phones, and watch poster and rapid fire talks from the comfort of a soft chair.

These poster talks provided an intermediate between the informal dialogue of a poster session, and a formal oral talk: using an interactive screen, poster talk presenters gave a short 5-10 minute presentation by highlighting certain areas of their digital poster and addressing audience questions. I was delighted to be invited to give one of these poster talks in the Molecular Biology and Physiology Hub, and thought that it gave me the opportunity to not only present my work to a wider audience, but was also slightly more formal than a standard poster session. I was blown away by the diversity, complexity, and quality of the research of so many researchers that attended Microbe 2017. It was an honor to be included among such inspiring work.


Jennifer Tsang: This meeting is my second Microbe and my first time attending a conference while on the job market! I was very grateful for all the career development sessions and networking opportunities available at ASM Microbe; not only did I get to meet people from all different fields of microbiology, they all had different types of jobs and can offer insight into microbiology careers at and away from the bench. As a science communication and writing enthusiast, I thought these sessions were a great way to network and meet those with similar interests.


Microbe 2017 Keynote:

AH: Does gravity affect biomedical research? If we conduct research in zero gravity, will it change our results? That’s the question astronaut and virologist Dr. Kate Rubins addressed while aboard the International Space Station. As the ASM Microbe keynote speaker, Rubins discussed her experiences with science writer Ed Yong, Rubins described the awe of being in space, the training (2 years!) and patience (12 hours in a space suit for a spacewalk!) involved, as well as her unorthodox career as a microbiologist. Rubins was the 60th woman in space, the 12th to perform a spacewalk and the first person to sequence DNA in space, but that was only the beginning of her tasks on board. All told, Rubins participated in more than 100 experiments spanning microbiology, molecular biology, geology, and the physics of combustion and fluids, during her 115-day tour.


Kate Rubins on TWiVNASA astronaut Kate Rubins on This Week in Virology.

Rubins received her PhD in 2006 from Stanford University where she studied gene expression and animal models of smallpox and Ebola. After graduating, Rubins became a Whitehead fellow and started her own lab and collaborated with the U.S. Army to study monkeypox in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was while procrastinating on a grant application that she applied to become a NASA astronaut. Her elation at the opportunity to become an astronaut was quickly balanced by what was going to happen to her lab. In a field where most faculty either move or die, what happens when one becomes an astronaut?


For Rubins, she took her lab (well, a part of it) into space. NASA allowed her to pack her pipettes, a mini sequencer, culture plates, and conical tubes, all of which she put to use testing off-planet sequencing techniques, exploring the limits of pipetting, and even streaking agar plates. She notes that there was very little adaptation required for sequencing in space and the surface tension of liquids makes pipetting possible so for now, the lack of gravity isn’t yet an issue for their research. This is promising for future NASA expeditions, particularly those where it is less than feasible to send samples back to Earth.


Rubins also emphasized the ability of space exploration to cross political boundaries and rejected “imposter syndrome” by telling an audience member that, “If I put you in the cockpit of a T38, you’d learn to fly it, too.” Her point being, you don’t have to be the best, you just have to do it. You can watch the full keynote and her interview with Vincent Racaniello on TWIV, both embedded below.


Highlights from the Tracks:

MB: This year at ASM Microbe there were seven different tracks in which attendees could participate: Antimicrobial Agents and Infectious Diseases, Ecological and Evolutionary Science, Applied and Environmental Science, Host-Microbe Biology, Clinical and Public Health Microbiology, Molecular Biology and Physiology, and Profession of Microbiology. Each track had its own hub in the exhibit hall surrounded by related posters, and these hubs hosted both sessions and featured poster talks. There were many star-studded scientists and innovators giving exceptional research presentations, and I would like to highlight some of my favorite presentations from early-career researchers and graduate students.


Track Hub 2017Track Hub on the exhibit floor at Microbe 2017.

Ecological and Evolutionary Science (EES)

The EES track encompases a broad range of topics from the organization of microbes in biofilms to how climate change affects microbial composition of soil and vice versa. EES also includes studies on how microbes evolve over time. Dacia Leon, a graduate student in Jeffrey Barricks lab at the University of Texas, Austin, gave a poster talk on the evolution of citrate metabolism in the Lenski Experiment — a microbial evolution experiment that has been going since 1988. After daily passage for about about 15 years, one, and only one, flask of E. coli had developed a striking new phenotype: the ability to utilize citrate as a carbon source aerobically in limited glucose medium. When the evolved strain was sequenced, the causative mutation was identified to be a tandem duplication of the citT gene, responsible for citrate transport into the cell, and which was now under control of an aerobic promoter. When asked about the significance of the work, Leon stated that, “studying the evolution of citrate utilization in the Lenski Long Term Evolution Experiment allows us to better understand how novel traits emerge in a population over long periods of time.”


lounge learnOne of many "Lounge and Learn" hubs.

Another notable poster presentation, winner of an Outstanding Abstract Award, was by Julie Perreau, a Masters student from the Gribaldo Lab at the Pasteur Institute. Her work revealed that horizontal gene transfer from bacteria was significant in the adaptation of these archaea to oxygen-rich environments. Regarding the value of studying these archaeal microbes, Perreau said they “play important roles in nutrient cycling across diverse environments, including hydrothermal deep-sea vents, the open ocean, and in the guts of invertebrates and vertebrates.” 


Host-Microbe Biology (HMB)

This track included presentations on the very hot topic of the host microbiome and how its composition affects human health. Stephanie Bachas-Daunert, a graduate student from Stanford University in the labs of David Relman (Microbiology and Immunology) and Craig Criddle (Civil and Environmental Engineering) presented her work on the links between chronic arsenic ingestion in people, arsenicosis, and the human microbiome. The project is ongoing but she stresses the significance of this research. “This is important because arsenic contamination is a global problem, including in the U.S., and there is a lack of effective treatments for arsenicosis,” Bachas-Daunert said.


Molecular Biology and Physiology (MBP)

The Molecular Biology and Physiology track was home to research that worked toward elucidating the mechanisms of how microbes function on a molecular scale. Among notable presentations was work by graduate student Alexis Jaramillo from the Darst Lab at Rockefeller University. Using single particle cryo-electron microscopy, Jaramillo and colleagues reconstructed the structure of the E. coli RNA polymerase bound to the Salmonella Typhimurium Crl protein, an unconventional transcription factor involved in the Salmonella stress response. Jaramillo stated, “This reconstruction supports a mechanism where Crl promotes the interaction of sigmaS with the core RNA Polymerase enzyme and enhances transcription of stress response genes including several involved in Salmonella pathogenesis.” Understanding this mechanism gives insight into how Salmonella species can survive and transcriptionally adapt to sub-optimal growth conditions.


Profession of Microbiology (POM) track

poster sessions 2017Poster session at Microbe 2017.

JT: The Profession of Microbiology (POM) track had something for everyone, whether you are early or far along in your career and whether you are a researcher, a science communicator or teacher. Among the many sessions hosted at the POM track hub was a session on online writing led by Julie Wolf and Courtney Reyers from ASM. In this session, they covered how to create engaging content with the audience in mind, how to use search engine optimization to acquire a larger audience, and how to make your content visually catching. Ada Hagan, a graduate student from the University of Michigan, also spoke about how to turn your scientific facts into compelling stories… even if you are writing a technical journal manuscript! Using Randy Olson’s “And, But, Therefore” narrative structure, participants had the opportunity to breathe life into their science stories (catch up on the highlights in her Twitter thread). Other POM sessions included how to use Twitter to connect a larger audience to science and how to fund science outreach ideas.  


Continuing Education Workshops:

MB: ASM offers continuing education workshops prior to the start of Microbe, and I had the opportunity to attend the ASM Microbe Academy Professional Development workshop. The workshop, meant for undergraduates and graduate students studying microbial sciences, was organized to aid young researchers in choosing mentors, writing grants, developing CVs and learning how to network. Over 60 undergraduates and 16 graduate students in various microbial fields gathered to attend the workshop.


Students covered many different topics including unconscious biases in science; the art of balancing grant budgets; conflict resolution; as well as writing an effective, and specialized science CV. Interspersed between sessions were opportunities to network with peers, including happy hours and a delicious plated dinner. The workshop proved to be an invaluable experience: students received the opportunity to prepare for becoming successful career researchers and practice their Microbe presentations.The workshop also sparked a vast array of new friendships, collaborations, and mentorships among those who attended.


Advice for Microbe Attendees:

Buku BrouxDon't forget to explore the city! Three members of Buka Broux perform near Jackson Square. Photo by: Jennifer Tsang.

AH: My biggest piece of advice for attending a large conference like Microbe is not to feel overwhelmed by all of the choices. You’ll never get to attend all of them, so pick what you want to focus on (networking, your field of microbiology, new-to-you microbiology, or career-oriented sessions) ahead of time and use the ASM app to help plan your days. Remember to leave at least a few hours for exploring the city!


MB: If you’re planning on attending a huge meeting like Microbe, you should download and take advantage of the amazing app that ASM put together. The app let me search abstracts by keyword, author, or institution, and insert the posters, talks, and sessions I was interested in directly into my schedule. The schedule can be exported into iCal or other calendar software and I was even able to share it with other attendees. I credit this piece of technology for keeping me sane and organized throughout the jam-packed Microbe schedule.


Jeff Stan MaloyJeff and Stan Maloy navigate the ASM app to find their next session.

JT: Be sure to make a schedule of sessions and prioritize what you want to see before attending the meeting. The ASM app was a great way to stay organized and find all the sessions and booths. If you’re looking to specifically talk to someone, connect with them before ASM (on Twitter, by email, etc) and try to set up a time to meet so that you are sure to have the opportunity to talk to them. For a big conference like ASM Microbe, you’ll be doing a lot of walking. The conference center in New Orleans is over half a mile long! Wear comfy shoes and bring a water bottle and a snack.


We hope you’ve enjoyed our takeaways from Microbe 2017. Many of the presentations were live-tweeted (see #asmicrobe), you can browse the highlights from curated links on MicroNow.org.


Watch the full Kate Rubins keynote from Microbe 2017

Watch Kate Rubins on This Week in Virology

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The sessions/tracks highlighted were based on personal experience as Microbe attendees. Authors were not incentivised to select highlights in any way.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 June 2017 19:03