Monday Micro – citizen science & the scary viruses

By Siouxsie Wiles 03/06/2013 1


I’ve recently returned from Denver, Colorado where I was attending the American Society of Microbiology’s (ASM) annual conference. It was one of the biggest conferences I’ve ever been to: approximately 7,100 attendees, nearly 230 sessions, 19 workshops, and over 2,500 posters. All in just 4 days. Exhausting! With such a huge amount going on, the organisors had developed a smart phone/tablet app that had all the sessions and posters listed and which allowed you to create your own itinerary. Very cool.

The sessions that I enjoyed the most were Jonathan Eisen & David Coil‘s Citizen Science session which started with a talk by the fantastic Graham Hatfull on his phage discovery and genomics programme which gets undergraduates isolating phage (viruses which infect bacteria). We are playing around isolating phage in my own lab so I spoke to Graham about potentially collaborating which would be fab. I’m keen for us to use our glowing bacteria to see whether phage can be used alongside antibiotics to slow down the development of antibiotic resistance, especially for something like TB.

Also in the Citizen Science session was Rob Dunn who is probably best known for his work identifying what microbes inhabit the human belly button. He was talking about a big study they are doing looking at the microbes in people’s homes. And it was great to get an update on the uBiome project which I’ve blogged about in the past. They raised over US$350,000 on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo selling kits to sequence people’s microbiomes.

Another session I really enjoyed was: Pandemic threats from emerging influenza viruses. The session was mainly a summary of what is known about two recent frightening flu types – H5N1 and H7N9. There was a talk by Albert Osterhaus who was involved in Ron Fouchier‘s Science paper about the mutations that would make H5N1 transmissible between mammals. This paper was one of two that got the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosafety all hot under the collar and almost ended up being censored. When describing the work and paper, Prof Oserhaus casually referred to the media shit storm around it as having been a “a little media interest”. Talk about an understatement!

Being a keen live tweeter, I tweeted all the talks I went to and as a result of my lightening fingers, my twitter handle made the list of the top 40 words tweeted during the conference. If you are interested, all the tweets for the conference are archived here.

asm top tweets (2)

I also geeked out about the conference and tweeting on bFM when I got home.

While not related to the ASM meeting, I’m going to leave you with this brilliant video about the amazing Anna Dumitriu an artist doing incredible stuff with microbes. Enjoy!

* as an aside, Wired magazine ran with the heading “When art goes viral” which is a nice catchy title but given that Anna works with bacteria, plain wrong.


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