JAMS10: Day 2’s a journey through antibiotics, hot spring microbes, microbiome medicines, more nitrifiers, attachment, and scientific thinking

Day 2 of the JAMS10 Symposium started with Tim van Opijnen from Boston College giving us a whirlwind tour of his lab’s work on detecting antibiotic resistance mechanisms, using entropy as a predictor for an organism’s fate and the hundreds of ways tolerance can occur in an antibiotic specific manner. Next up was Dianne Newman from California Institute of Technology discussing the agathokakological (a mix of good and evil – love a vocab lesson to start a talk!) roles for redox active phenazine antibiotics produced by Pseudomonas aeruginosa

The third presentation in the session was Roland Hatzenpichler from Montana State University introducing us to metagenomic studies of archaea from Yellowstone Hot Springs, a relatively low complexity environment, to test hypotheses about organisms predicted to be methanogenic. The final speaker in this international session was Ashlee Earl from The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard giving us insights into Enterococcus. Big props to Tim and Ashlee for planning ahead for the effects of a hurricane and pre-recording their talks!

In the afternoon the second poster session was held along with a panel session on working outside academia. Four scientists with diverse positions came together to discuss their paths from their PhDs out of academia, how they picked up the necessary skills for their current roles and how much they rely on their technical training in their everyday work. It was inspiring to hear that some panellists didn’t know what they wanted to do, even at the stage of completing their PhDs, that non-linear career paths are normal and there can be plenty of successes and satisfaction on a non-traditional career path after a PhD.

The afternoon international session started off with Samuel Forster from Monash University walking us through developing medicines using information from microbiomes, followed by Iruka Okeke from the University of Ibadan discussing adherence in E. coli, the exceptional bacterial coloniser of the digestive tract. Sebastian Lücker from Radboud University Nijmegen continued the conversation on nitrifying organisms and in situ detection of nitrifying microbes in complex samples.

These presentations were followed by Lone Gram from the Technical University of Denmark exploring why bacteria produce antibiotics and if they truly are secondary metabolites. The final speaker of this session was James Prosser from the University of Aberdeen who wrapped up the talks with a fascinating discussion (without any slides!) of scientific thinking in microbial ecology including inference, biased hypotheses based on arbitrary observations, assumptions and qualities of good hypotheses. Jim put forward the idea that it’s not technical challenges that limit progress in microbial ecology, but a lack of a scientific approach. 

The last task of the day was to wrap up the conference and announce the prize winners. Shang Yu Shueh was awarded the JAMS Community Advancement and Co-operation Award (the trophy is a toilet seat to recognise that the winner got sh*t done!). The wonderful support of the sponsors allowed for many poster presenters to be recognised for their hard work. Congratulations to all the winners!

Thanks to the JAMS10 organising committee for another excellent microbiology meeting and for creating a space for environmental and fundamental microbiology. The team of 45 pulled off an extremely professional event after pivoting from in-person to online with short notice. The only thing that was missing was the roar of applause at the end of a fabulous symposium! For more information visit jams.org.au or check out the #JAMS10 hashtag on Twitter.