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Conference report At Marco Island, Gordon Tells Us We re Mostly Bugs


When the sixth annual Advances in Genome Biology and Technology conference opened in Marco Island, Fla., this February, some 200 attendees may have been surprised to hear that they were composed almost entirely of bacteria.

The conference kicked off with a session on microbial genomics, opening with Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University speaking on “The Human Intestinal Microbiota and its Microbiome: Terra Incognita Becomes More Cognita.” Gordon, who informed the audience that an adult human’s body has 10 times more microbial cells than human cells, is in the midst of studies analyzing the bacterial community living in the human gut. Those studies focus on some of the activities performed by the microbes that the human genome has not evolved to do on its own, such as digesting polysaccharides. Using germ-free mice, Gordon and his colleagues are attempting to understand the effects of the many members of what he called the “bacterial nation.” One major challenge: Many of the bacteria have never been cultured outside of the intestine.

The microbes that promote polysaccharide digestion, for example, contribute significantly to the body’s process of converting these foods to fat and storing them in adipocytes, he said. Gordon added that further research is ongoing to determine whether there’s a difference in the presence or efficiency of these particular bacteria between people who are morbidly obese and people who are not.

The other speakers of the session included James Galagan of the Broad Institute on Aspergillus; David Mead from Lucigen on microbes in a boiling thermal pool; and Cliff Han of the Joint Genome Institute on members of the B. cereus group.

This year’s Marco Island conference has suffered some of the same attrition as its GSAC cousin, but not nearly to the same extent. Down from its usual crowd of 300 to somewhere just north of 200, much of the change can be attributed to this year’s lack of an exhibit hall, which had dwindled in size over the past couple of years.

— Meredith Salisbury


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