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Over 1500 scientists attended the 2nd FEMS congress. The aim of this conference was to cover the wide spectrum of disciplines in Microbiology and highlight the progress made so far in microbial knowledge. For such an ambitious goal, the conference was organized into 5 key lectures, 22 morning symposia and 19 afternoon workshops, where scientists were able to show the latest advances in their fields through talks or poster sessions. The purpose of the organisers was to fit the research into three broad themes: Microbes and health, Microbes and the environment, and Biotechnology. For the purpose of this newsletter and my own professional interests I will focus on the workshop titled Plant Pathogen interactions and one of the five key lectures.
My research interests are on understanding how P. syringae adapts to the plant apoplast and what are the metabolic changes occurring in the plant during infection. I explained my recent work in Gail Preston’s lab in a talk entitled “Apoplast metabolomics and phenoarray analysis of Pseudomonas-plant interactions” in the Plant Pathogen interaction workshop, and showed a poster the following day. In the same workshop, Emilio Montesinos gave a broad review on plant-microbe interactions stressing the importance of knowing how plant defence systems work to design efficient tools for plant protection. He highlighted the existing bottleneck regarding registration of biocontrol agents as biopesticides due to toxicological risk or environmental impact. One of the most significant contributions from his lab has been the improvement of biocontrol efficacy by osmoadaptation and the design of synthetic antimicrobial peptides that can be used either as pesticide ingredients or as agents expressed in transgenic plants. The second chairman, Ben Lugtenberg gave a lecture on biocontrol in the rhizosphere enumerating the mechanisms used by biocontrol agents (BCA) and more importantly stressing the challenges this discipline faces which is the need to determine the root exudate composition to understand the rhizosphere metabolic network, the need for genomic tools to identify the life style of microbes in the rhizosphere, the improvement of BCA survival for formulation purposes and the challenges plant protection faces in extreme condition such as saline soils. There was also a very interesting talk from S. Hacker on the membrane lipid phosphatidylcholine which has been shown to be required for both pathogenic and symbiotic interactions in Agrobacterium tumefaciens and Bradyrhizobium japonicum respectively.
As mentioned before, I would like to highlight one of the five key lectures of the conference which was given by Victor de Lorenzo. Although not related to the field of Bacterial Plant Pathology it was interesting to see the innovative approaches he and his group are taking in Bioremediation and metagenomics by considering microbial communities as gene landscapes. They looked at metabolic and catabolic properties of microorganisms and with the use of Systems Biology and powerful bioinformatic tools, they have designed a biodegradation network assembled with reactions from many different strains, so given compounds can be degraded by means of reactions contributed by different partners of given microbial consortia. An application from the design of a genetic trap that detects catabolic activities in the environment for biotransformation was also described.
Although some could argue that a conference of this size makes it a difficult task to choose among the myriad of talks and poster sessions, for a junior researcher it is a great opportunity to obtain a broad idea of the trends and challenges European Microbiology and related disciplines are facing. Furthermore, I had positive feed back on my current work, and attending this conference has also helped me to continue orientating my research career in this area.
Finally, I would like to thank the BSPP for contributing to my conference registration fees.
Arantza Rico, the Preston Lab, Department of Plant Sciences.