JAMS November 2011 meeting report by David Wilkins

Metagenomics has been a hot topic at JAMS in 2011. Playing to this popular theme, Thomas Jeffries of the University of Technology, Sydney opened the final meeting for the year with his metagenomic analysis of taxonomic and functional patterns in South Australia's hypersaline Coorong Lagoon. Thomas and colleagues found shifts in the abundance of cyanobacteria and Archaea linked to a salinity and nutrient gradient along the lagoon, as well as a shift in the abundance of genes related to salinity tolerance and photosynthesis. Surprisingly, despite the extreme range of environmental factors within Coorong, they found these patterns were dwarfed when the lagoon samples were placed in a global context, which showed substrate - in this case, solid or fluid - had a greater influence on taxonomic profiles. Thomas's work shows the importance of scale in the relationship between a microbial community and its environment.

Leona Campbell of the University of Sydney followed with a story of fungi, pigeons and triumph over adversity in the lab. Cryptococcus gattii, a ubiquitous fungus capable of serious pathogenicity in humans and other hosts, is becoming an increasingly salient health concern with outbreaks in Canada and the US Pacific Northwest. While many strains with a large range of virulence have been identified, their virulence factors remain poorly characterised. Lenona and colleagues compared the secretomes a C. gattii strain with low-level virulence to a hypervirulent strain. After developing a novel protein capture system to thwart C. gattii's stubbornly abundant polysaccharide capsule, they identified a surprising divergence between the two secretomes, with the low-level virulence strain secreting proteins which may make it more immunogenic.

Attendees then celebrated the JAMS tradition of a long break for pizza, beer and conversation with both regular JAMS attendees and a number of newcomers. As JAMS has grown since its inception one year ago, it has seen an increasing attendance of interstate and international visitors. Tonight was no exception, with microbiologists from all over Australia and as far afield as Norway in attendance.

Eventually the group reconvened for the final talk of the night. Brendan Burns of the University of New South Wales presented an overview of several years of research in his group on the stromatolites of Shark Bay, the living relics of a type of microbial community that was once a dominant form of life on Earth. His group's work also encompasses Shark Bay's highly structured microbial mats. Brendan and colleagues have pioneered the a range of methods to build a comprehensive picture of the taxonomic and functional structures of these communities, using molecular techniques, traditional culturing, genomics and a novel microelectrode system able to map chemical gradients within microbial mats at sub-millimeter resolution. A focus of Brendan's work has been cell-cell interactions in these communities, including quorum sensing across species and even domain boundaries. Along they way, they have discovered and characterised a novel halophylic archaeon, Halococcus hamelinensis, named for the pool in Shark Bay from which it was isolated.

JAMS will reconvene on January 25th for the first meeting of 2012. This will be followed by a special 'dinner party in the museum' in February to get the year off to a great start. Thanks are due to the JAMS sponsors and supporters for 2011, particularly the Australian Society of Microbiology for providing pizza and drinks and to the Australian Museum for the venue. Thanks also to the JAMS steering committee for the hard work they have invested throughout the year. See you in 2012