Annual Conference 2017 – a view from Twitter

The Microbiology Society’s Annual Conference 2017, which took place 3–6 April in Edinburgh, was our biggest event to date. After becoming fully booked weeks before it began, the four days saw over 1,800 delegates come through the doors and 600 posters on show – we managed to exceed our personal best that we set last year in Liverpool in 2016. Have a look at our Twitter summary of the best of this year’s Annual Conference.

There were many great, innovative posters up around the main hall.

And some lunchtime flash poster presentations really highlighted the excellent research taking place…

… Including our Antibiotics Unearthed students, who were very excited to talk to people about their research.

The Early Career Microbiologists’ Forum was very well represented, with many members giving talks, presenting posters, and some even co-chairing sessions.

There was so much fantastic science on offer, it was hard for some to decide what to go to.

The Prize Lectures were very popular once again.

And we found out what most people thought about microbiome research in the panel discussion.

This year, we rolled out a specific professional development session, which was packed out for both days.

We brought pages from our upcoming microbiome colouring book to trial at Conference – who doesn’t love colouring?

Our sold-out social programme – the quiz night and ceilidh – were a great laugh.

Thanks to all who attended and helped organise Annual Conference 2017 to make it even better than Liverpool, as promised. Preparations for 2018 in Birmingham are already underway – we hope to see you again this time next year!

Yufan Chen

Image credit: Microbiology Society
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Investigating Lyme disease on the South Downs

The South Downs National Park is an area that stretches for 140 km along the South Coast of England, and is home to a huge diversity of plants and animals.

Some of the smaller inhabitants of the park are ticks: biting arachnids that feed on the blood of a wide range of mammals and birds, including deer, sheep and rodents. A number of these ticks are colonised by bacteria of the Borrelia genus, which are known to be the causative agent of Lyme disease, a potentially serious infection that can affect many parts of the body.

Last year, researchers from the University of Brighton suggested that the national park includes two of the ten areas in the UK where Lyme disease transmission is most common.

What the team weren’t able to show was why the park has high levels of transmission. Today, at the Microbiology Society’s Annual Conference, Dr Ian Cooper from the University of Brighton is presenting a poster explaining how the team are looking to answer that question. Continue reading

Posted in Animal Microbiology, Clinical and Medical Microbiology, Emerging Diseases | Tagged | 2 Comments

Pioneer fungi start degrading dead wood before it hits the ground

Next time you go walking in a forest during the summer months, take a look up and see if you can spot any branches missing their leaves. It might not seem obvious at first, but you’re looking at a poorly understood, although rather important, ecosystem.

As a tree grows, the branches nearest the base can become starved of light as the canopy spreads out above them, meaning that they use more energy than they create. Some types of tree actually ‘self prune’ these leafless branches, dropping them to the ground, where they get broken down by micro-organisms, returning their nutrients to the soil.

However, far from being dead weight, these limbs are actually vessels for numerous species of pioneer fungi that appear to be involved in the early decay process, while a branch remains attached to its tree. These fungi are able to break into parts of the wood that other fungi can’t reach, hastening the branch’s fall. Continue reading

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Koalas have a virus that might protect them from chlamydia

In 2016, the koala was upgraded from ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The cuddly-looking marsupial is not only threatened by habitat loss, but also by disease – most notably chlamydia infections.

Different species of chlamydia bacteria infect koalas and humans. Previous research into the koala pathogen, Chlamydophila pecorum, shows something rather puzzling – not all koala populations are affected by the pathogen in the same way.

Infected koalas in the northern part of Australia have a higher rate of actual disease, while those in the south seem to either be less likely to be infected, or they do not show symptoms. Today, at the Microbiology Society’s Annual Conference, Dr Rachael Tarlinton from the University of Nottingham is presenting research that might explain why this is the case. Continue reading

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This device uses a laser to rapidly detect bacteria

SLIC by name, slick by nature.

That’s the title of a presentation later today by Dr Robert Hammond from the University of St Andrews. In it, he’ll be talking about a new technology for quickly detecting bacteria and their susceptibility to antibiotics.

SLIC can detect between 10 and 100 bacterial cells in 1ml of liquid – that’s equivalent to finding 10 Maltesers hidden around Wembley Stadium.

It works by shining a laser beam inside an orange-sized sphere, which contains the sample in a small well. Most of the light – around 99% – escapes out the other side. But the other ~1% doesn’t make it, hitting bacteria inside the liquid and getting scattered around the inside of the sphere.

“Imagine a single photon that interacts with a bacterium. That diverts it from its perfectly linear course, and it starts to fly off in any random direction,” explains Robert.

“It might hit another bacterium, or hit the inside of the sphere. But eventually, all the photons will be seen by the photodetector on the inside of the sphere. And all this happens at the speed of light, so it’s more or less instantaneous.” Continue reading

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Antarctic microbes from Scott’s Discovery Expedition

In 1901, Captain Robert Falcon Scott led a team of men on the Discovery Expedition to explore the mysteries of Antarctica.

The expedition is famous for its scientific legacy, including the discovery of snow-free valleys, emperor penguin colonies and the location of the South Magnetic Pole.

But the team also brought back some mysterious life forms living at the bottom of a lake. It took nearly 60 years for scientists to work out what they really were: cyanobacteria. Continue reading

Posted in Environmental Microbiology, Podcast | Tagged , | 1 Comment

In New York State, bats are showing signs of recovery from white-nose syndrome

Bats in North America are in trouble. Millions of them have died over the past few years, over an area that stretches for thousands of miles, from Nova Scotia in Eastern Canada to Nebraska in the heart of North America. This area is moving steadily west, although isolated cases have already been found in Seattle on the US West Coast.

The disease responsible for killing the bats is known as white-nose syndrome, caused by the fungus Pseudogymnoascus destructans. Some populations have suffered catastrophic declines of up to 90%, and the northern long-eared bat – one of the most common in North America – has completely disappeared from some areas. Continue reading

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