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In July 2019, the city of Glasgow took over from Valencia to organise the 8th biannual Conference of European Microbiologist FEMS-2019; one of the unavoidable dates in the agendas of microbiologists. Not every year microbiologists have the chance to attend a congress where the main building has been designed by the world -renowned architect Sir Norman Foster.
This year´s conference attracted around 2,000 researchers from around the world, including speakers from 41 countries. The impressive dimensions of the event are reflected in an abstract book of more than 1,600 pages in length from which attendees could decide which of the more than 300 lectures to attend and prioritise among more than 1,400 posters. The meeting was structured in 7 plenary lectures, 32 symposia, 24 workshops, 6 special events and 9 poster sessions. Eight sessions were running in parallel throughout the congress, including several of particular interest for BSPP members such as sessions focussed on microbial communities associated with plants, biofilms, gene expression and regulation, microbial pathogenicity, genetics and genomics, social ecology, host-pathogen interactions, protein turnover and secretion and microbiome.
The conference was opened with two plenary talks on the engineering of microorganisms for the production of chemicals and materials from renewable resources and the bacterial pathogen Listeria monocytogenes by Sang Yup- Lee and Pascale Cossart, respectively.
The second day was kicked off by Toby Kiers who gave an extraordinary plenary lecture on arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis and the evolution of host-symbiotic dependence.
Amazingly, using state-of-the-art high resolution imaging and video, her lab was able to track (re)distribution of nutrients across complex mycorrhizal fungal networks and into the roots of plant hosts. Other talks to highlight for members of BSPP are summarised below.
Julia Vorholt described how her laboratory conducted large sampling experiments to define a core leaf bacterial community. Subsequent assays using synthetic communities revealed that plants respond differently (for example, inducing the expression of plant defence genes) to distinct members of its phyllosphere microbiota.
Leo Eberl gave an inspiring talk on how Burkholderia cepacia alters the intracellular levels of the second messenger c-di-GMP ultimately modulating biofilm formation.
Burkholderia cepacia is a bacterial species that can be pathogenic to plants and humans while also exhibiting great potential in agricultural biotechnology since some strains have been shown to produce antifungal compounds and to promote plant growth. Sarah Lebeis shed light on how plants control root microbiome assembly and her results revealed that salicylic acid shapes root microbe composition. Additionally, focussing on bacteria of the Streptomyces genus, she provided data indicating that better root colonisers have higher content in secondary metabolites biosynthetic gene clusters.
Similarly, Birgit Mitter gave a great talk on the role of plant microbiome dynamics in plant health. She showed that the plant microbiota is a result of the combination of microbes vertically acquired as well as those directly recruited from the environment. Her research also highlighted that the plant microbiota actively responds to changes in plant physiology. Davide Bulgarelli discussed the role of plant genomes on shaping rhizosphere microbiota composition. Excitingly, using barley as a model plant, Davide´s data convinced us that a single locus in the chromosome 3H plays a key role in microbial community assembly. Marc Ongena delved into the complexity of the regulation of secondary metabolites production in situ in the rhizosphere.
Using root-associated biocontrol bacteria belonging to the Bacillus genus, his results showed that during the interaction with host plants, the synthesis of different antimicrobials and surfactants is activated. Remarkably, in the presence of competitor bacteria as well as plant pathogenic fungi and oomycetes, the production of a broad range of bioactive secondary metabolites was also induced. Although not directly associated with the potential interests of BSPP members, it was also really stimulating to attend seminal talks on the immune system of bacteria, type VI secretion system, epigenetic control of lineage formation, bacterial cell-cell signalling and antibiotic discovery by Roten Sorek, Sarah Coulthurst, Josep Casadesus, Ines Mandic-Mulec and Nadie Ziemert, respectively.
Finally, I would like to thank BSPP for providing me with a Travel grant to help my attendance at this extraordinary conference. In fact, I had the excellent opportunity to present my latest work on the regulation of the biosynthesis of andrimid; an antibiotic that is produced by a root-associated bacterium and that is effective against a broad range of bacterial pathogens. In particular, my research allowed the identification of a signalling molecule that is recognised by a pathway-specific transcriptional regulator. This specific recognition results in the inhibition of the expression of the biosynthetic gene cluster and the suppression of antibiotic production. I am looking forward to the next FEMS Conference, which will be held in Hamburg (Germany) in July 2021.
Miguel A. Matilla Spanish Research Council (EEZCSIC; Granada, Spain)