JAMS10: SARS-CoV-2, fungal tree of life, halogenated pollutants, nitrifying microbes, symbionts and machine learning (and it’s only day 1!)

A new world needs a new way of conferencing and JAMS has taken full advantage of new technologies to make that happen. This year marks the 10th annual symposium of Joint Academic Microbiology Seminars (JAMS) so, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the executive committee was determined to get everyone together to celebrate. 

New outbreaks around Australia and the world meant getting together in person was off the cards, so the team quickly pivoted to use GatherTown to create a custom online meeting place called JAMSTown. Every attendee makes an avatar that moves around the online conference space, and turning on microphones and cameras means attendees can chat and see each other in real time – it’s quick to set up and easy to get the hang of. There are plenary halls for the two streams, Sydney and Kuala Lumpur, a poster hall where attendees can chat with the poster presenters, places to chat and even a games room and beach! Zoom was used to bring together people from all around the world to talk about microbiology research.

The online symposium opened up opportunities to attract big names in microbiology from around the world. The first joint session brought us three plenary speakers, two on SARS-CoV-2 detection on surfaces and in wastewater, and the third on mycology. Forest Rohwer from San Diego University gave us a whirlwind tour of sampling and using genomics to detect if SARS-CoV-2 virus was hanging out on commonly touched, rarely disinfected surfaces in San Diego, Janelle Thompson from Nanyang Technological University introduced us to wastewater surveillance for COVID-19 and Jonathon Plett from Western Sydney University explored the impact of genomic sequencing on mycologists’ understanding of the fungal tree of life.

The poster session in JAMSTown was a good analogue of an in-person poster session. The platform allows poster presenters and visitors within a small area to talk and see each other using their computer’s microphone and camera, so the interaction and Q&A part of a poster session is still possible. There were 57 posters submitted by JAMS attendees; that’s a lot of posters to visit in two poster sessions!

After a break, the JAMS founders panel discussed the development of JAMS in the 10 years since it’s foundation, their ideas for JAMS for the next 10 years (hand it over to the young ones!) and Australian microbiology. There’s always plenty of laughs when Federico Lauro, Mike Manefield, Ian Paulsen, Mike Kertesz and Andy Holmes get together. 

In the second international session of the day, Jianzhong He from the National University of Singapore taught us about detoxifying halogenated organic pollutants and Mike Jetten from Radboud University Nijmegen introduced us to new anerobic microbes (‘spookmicrobes’) involved in the nitrogen and methane cycles. 

In the second part of the session Jillian Petersen from the University of Vienna took us on a tour across 400 million years of microbial symbiosis with marine clams and Holger Daims from University of Vienna gave us insights into new discoveries in the ecology and function of nitrifying microbes. The final speaker of the session, Lauren Cowley from the University of Bath, taught us about machine learning for attributing locations for Salmonella enteritidis infections in the UK.

Big thanks go out to all the JAMS10 sponsors! Without their support this online conference would not have been possible. Thanks to HelloBio for sponsoring a competition to win free tickets to JAMS10; I was very excited to be a winner! Overall an amazing day filled with a diversity of microbiology and speakers from across the globe – looking forward to a lot more microbiology on day 2 of JAMS10 tomorrow. For more information visit jams.org.au.

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