The American Society for Microbiology annual meeting program is jam-packed with noteworthy microbes — from the widely studied E. coli to 'unculturable' bugs recently discovered by way of high-throughput sequencing and metagenomic analysis.
In a Sunday plenary session that covered the functions of microbial communities — specifically, 'who is doing what?' within them — speakers shared strategies for sorting through and making sense of large metagenomic datasets. The University of California, Berkeley's Jillian Banfield discussed her group's integrated 'omics studies of natural microbial communities. She and her team have used proteomic data to infer physiological information for organisms with complete or partial genome sequences. Jonathan Zehr at the University of California, Santa Cruz, stressed that when it comes to microbial communities, it's important not only to consider 'who is doing what,' but also 'with whom.'
During the same session, Oregon State University's Stephen Giovanonni discussed factors that might make an organism 'unculturable.' For species with small genomes — like SAR11, which he spoke about at the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute User Meeting in March — Giovannoni said that reduced genome size often comes at a price. Because organisms with especially small genomes can have unusual nutrient requirements, they can be unusually difficult to grow in culture, he said.
In light of the recent Human Microbiome Project publications, the microbiome research presented in scientific sessions was a highlight of Sunday afternoon. In a symposium focused on racial and ethnic differences among human microbiomes, the University of Idaho's Larry Forney discussed how the prevalence of vaginal community state types varies among ethnic groups. Additionally, Howard University's Courtney Robinson discussed potential connections among race/ethnicity, microbiota, and inflammatory bowel disease. While she said there is not enough information to established solid relationships among the three as yet, race/ethnicity-microbiota links may provide clues as to how host genetics affect IBD susceptibility.
Later, in a session dedicated the microbiology of the built environment, the University of California, Davis' Jonathan Eisen spoke about microBEnet — microbiology of the built environment network — a project he leads to connect researchers across disciplines investigating these organisms. Later, Nicholas Be from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory discussed how his group is using deep sequencing and metagenomic analyses to investigate the environmental air microbiome of highly accessed public spaces, like mass transit hubs. He showed that the microbial populations that exist in such environments are temporally dependent, changing with temperature, humidity, and precipitation, among other things.