Sunday, September 21, 2008

Review of Arrowhead Conference

I was hoping to write this during the conference, but every talk I went to was really interesting and I ended up not using that time for blogging. However, there is at least one talk that I wanted to mention before I forgot to much.

I thought the most interesting talk was from Kim Lewis, who describes "persistor cells" as those bacteria that lay dormant in a population. These persistors are resistant to antibiotics because they are essentially shut down and passivly allow antibiotics to simply wash over them as opposed to normal bacteria cells that actively block or pump out antibiotics. Lewis also showed that late samples taken from cystic fibrosis patients had high levels of persistor cells. Kim then discussed unculturable bacteria (of which 99% of bacteria are) and suggested that when plated on media that these are actually dormant and not dead. To support this Kim showed that by innoculating an unculturable sample with E.coli caused growth of an unculturable strain around the E.coli spot. He later found a mutant that did not cause the effect and identified the key gene to be a sideophore. Lewis ends with this little tidbit, "Dormancy is the default mode of bacterial life". I find this really interesting because it suggests that most bacteria depend on a few bacteria to signal when their surrondings are optimal for growth.

There are a couple of more talks that I hope to blog about in the next day or two.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Microbial Genomics

I have been at Lake Arrowhead since Sunday for the 16th International Microbial Genomes Conference and I have to admit I am quite impressed. I think this conference has solidified in my mind that large conferences can't compete with smaller conferences. Let me list the reasons why in order of importance:

  1. Food - in almost all cases the larger the group of people the worse the food will be. Now you may think I am slightly joking around saying that this is the most important, but I am quite serious. There is nothing worse than having to eat some cafeteria style food and then have to sit through 2-4 hours of talks with a cramping/rumbling/starving belly. Also, I find meals are the best place to meet and have discussions with other scientists.
  2. Meeting people. You get a chance to meet almost everyone you want to without having to hunt them down like a gazelle. I really detest pouncing on a speaker as soon as they are done a talk. It is much nicer to see them at a break or at a meal (see above) and introduce yourself and ask a question then.
  3. Better science. I find at smaller conferences the talks have been hand selected and tend to have a better line up of speakers
  4. Location, location, location. Smaller conferences tend to have their meetings at nicer locations.
  5. Beer & Wine - From my experience alcohol tends to be cheaper (or free) at smaller conferences which always makes everyone happy and tends to get scientists to loosen up some.