21 May 2011

ASM 2011 Conference: New Orleans

I have arrived in lovely New Orleans! For the next couple of days, I'll be spending my time at the general meeting of the American Society for Microbiology in lovely New Orleans. I'm here at what will likely be my last ASM conference with the Slonczewski Lab from Kenyon College, where we are presenting our recent work on multi-drug efflux pumps, pH homeostasis, and fluorescence microscopy. It's really a great education for the undergraduates that my PI, Dr. Joan Slonczewski, brings along to the meeting.

The opening session was this evening and, I think, much better than the previous two years. Each of the three lectures was intriguing, accessible, and well-prepared. I was reassured that I will be heading off to graduate school in the right direction - evolution and ecology - by the fact that I found the lecture by Dr. Nicole Dubilier on symbiotic relationships between sulfur-oxidizing bacteria and marine invertebrates most enjoyable. Similarly, last year in San Diego at ASM 2010, I thought the best opening lecture was that by Dr. Nancy Moran, who spoke about her work on the relationship between endosymbiotic bacteria and leafhoppers that I wrote about last year.

The second lecture by Dr. Liping Zhao was equally fascinating. He discussed what eating well does for us physically via our microbial gut flora. This work has been in the news somewhat, but I found the thorough lecture perfect for tying together all the disparate pieces of the story. His work shows that for morbidly obese people, a change in diet from a high fat, low fiber diet to a more sensible one allows the microbiome in the gut to shift from an abundance of pathogenic organisms that can cause longterm disease to beneficial and benign organisms. For some reason, the attendees at the reception after the lectures seemed much more restrained around the over-abundance of food in the exhibit hall...

The last lecture, which I found the most difficult to follow from the detail and fast pace, was on environmental stressors that can trigger heritable changes in the organisms studied, mostly yeast. We're not talking Lamarckian giraffe's neck scale of environmentally acquired traits, but the analogy was striking.

That's all for now, but I may check in at least once more during the meeting if I'm not too exhausted in the evenings. Tomorrow we dine at the Court of Two Sisters, which sounds exciting.

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