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The conference attracted around 450 researchers from more than 60 countries and it was a magnificent opportunity to present and discuss the advances in the new antimicrobial strategies against pathogenic microorganisms. The conference began with a workshop entitled “Biocides: do they select for antimicrobial resistance?” and continued with the presentation of more than 150 short lectures and 300 posters. The sessions included the identification of antimicrobial natural products, the use of beneficial microorganisms and bacteriophages for disease control, antimicrobial resistance of (re-) emerging pathogens, and techniques for the study of the mechanisms of action of antimicrobials.
ICAR2012 has made clear the great effort that researchers continue to perform in order to identify and develop new strategies to control the infections caused by multidrug resistant pathogenic microorganisms. One of the most promising strategies continues to be the antimicrobial peptides (AMPs), an antimicrobial class of compounds that are capable of acting synergistically with classical antimicrobial molecules. In recent years, new broad spectrum AMPs have been identified, new on-line tools (i. e. AMPA) destined to predict protein domains with potential AMP activity have been developed and computational models for the modes of action of novel AMPs have also been proposed.
Focusing on aspects of interest for BSPP readers, nowadays the urgent need to control plant diseases caused by emerging, re-emerging and endemic plant pathogens is even more evident. This problem continues to challenge our ability to safeguard plant growth and crop production and it has been exacerbated due to the new legislation that restricts the use of synthetic agrochemical pesticides. Thus, the use of biopesticides, defined by the European Commission as “a form of pesticide based on microorganisms or natural products” is growing at an annual rate of about 9%. During this conference, I had the pleasure of presenting for the first time our recently published work regarding the biosynthesis of the haterumalide oocydin A, an anticancer and antimicrobial compound with strong activity against plant-pathogenic fungi and oomycetes. However, other strategies such as the generation of transgenic plants showing increased resistance against plant pathogens have been developed. Dr. Goutam Gupta´s group engineered a protein chimera to protect against the phytopathogen responsible for causing Pierce disease in grape. This chimera was composed of an elastase and a lytic peptide fused to an N-terminal signal sequence that allows the delivery of the chimera to the colonization site of the pathogen, the plant xylem. Grape plants expressing this chimera resulted in the decrease of the symptoms associated with Pierce disease. In addition, Dr. Valeria Terzi, from the Italian CRAGPG Genomics Research Center, presented her work related with the identification and the mechanisms of action of plant metabolites, in order to maximize the antifungal properties of tea tree oils for the control of powdery mildew on barley. TerziÂ´s group evaluated the impact of the essential oils treatment on barley and fungi transcriptomes using RNA sequencing methods. Furthermore, new research and development strategies to detect and control plant pathogens were presented at the conference. This included state-of-the-art technologies such as the generation of engineered reporter bacteriophages, the used of microfluidics and the construction of biosensor platforms to rapidly detect the presence of plant pathogens in food and in crops in situ.
In conclusion, ICAR2012 was a good multidisciplinary conference on antimicrobial research; an excellent opportunity to acquire a broad view of new state-of-the-art analytical techniques and to establish future collaborations within the antimicrobial, analytical chemistry and bioinformatics research fields. Hopefully, the fight against pathogens will continue in two years time in ICAR2014.
Miguel A. Matilla-Vázquez
University of Cambridge