Inaugural JAMS Anniversary half-day meeting and museum dinner report

Sydney may have failed to deliver some sunshine on the last day of a slightly extended summer, but this didn’t dampen the spirits of Sydney’s microbiology community who turned out in numbers for the Inaugural JAMS Anniversary half-day meeting at the Australian Museum. This special meeting celebrated the first birthday of JAMS, an ASM special interest group that aims to bring together research microbiologists, post-docs and PhD students working in non-clinical research from all institutes.

Special thanks must go to the sponsors of the meeting: POCD scientific; Becton, Dickinson and Company; Macquarie University; The University of Sydney; The University of NSW; The University of Technology, Sydney, and; The University of Western Sydney. Another special thank you must also go to Federico Lauro (UNSW) and other members of the JAMS steering committee for organising the anniversary meeting and for their continued commitment to JAMS. The steering committee would also like to thank the Australian Museum who kindly provided the venue for our regular meetings and who hosted this special event.

The anniversary meeting saw talks from five distinguished national and international speakers. The complete abstracts for these presentations are available on the JAMS website.

The first talk was presented by Stan Robert from CSIRO Tasmania. Stan is interested in studying marine microbial communities on a global scale. To increase the resolution of global microbial analyses, Stan envisages a future that includes a microbiology equivalent of Argo floats – a collection of 3000 robotic probes that delve as deep as 2 km beneath the ocean’s surface to collect and transmit a range of environmental data to scientists in real-time. Stan is developing technology that could be deployed on these self-contained microbiology laboratories, and sees an important role for array-based methods in sampling the microbial diversity.

The second talk was presented by Brajesh Singh from The University of Western Sydney. Microorganisms have a number of recognised roles in global biogeochemical cycles, but due their diversity and a lack of methodology for quantifying their impact on these cycles, their functions have not been integrated into climate projection models. Brajesh has developed approaches that illustrate the role microbes in ecosystem function, which could aid their inclusion in future projection models.

The third talk followed on with the theme of microbial involvement in global climate patterns. Steven Siciliano from University of Saskatchewan, Canada, described the role of genes, enzymes, microbes and plants in regulating greenhouse gas release from Arctic Soils. Steven presented research that defined the spatial scales of various biological interactions and contemplated the significance of these scales on climate projections.

The first three talks were followed by a poster session that included presentations from around 15 keen PhD students. Congratulations go to Akitomo Kawasaki from The University of Sydney who took away the best poster prize for his work describing Plant-microbe-pollutant interactions in polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon-contaminated soils.

After the break Tim Stinear from The University of Melbourne described an exciting application of comparative genomics. In this work, Tim’s group has constructed a high-resolution phylogeny of Mycobacterium ulcerans, the causative agent of Buruli ulcer in humans, and the related fish-associated pathogen Mycobacterium marinum. They have also defined characteristics of M. ulcerans that have promoted its niche-adaptation and divergence from an M. marinum progenitor. The natural reservoirs of Mycobacterium ulcerans remain in question. However, investigations of cases localised to an area near Melbourne, suggested that one source may be found in the native marsupial population.

The final talk of the evening was presented by Mark Morrison from CSIRO Queensland. Mark began his talk with some fascinating statistics illustrating that greenhouse gas emissions from native Australian macropodids, such as kangaroos and wallabies, are significantly lower than those from commonly farmed ruminant livestock. Mark’s team has been using metagenomic approaches to define the composition of the gut microbiomes in these animals. This information will be valuable in future efforts aiming to direct the microbial composition of ruminant guts towards a low methane emission phenotype.

After the talks we were treated to a fully catered two course banquet in the dinosaur room of the Australian Museum, which included an excellent selection of Australian wines and beers.

Coming up in March

Join us for the next meeting, scheduled for 6pm Wednesday March 28, at the Australian Museum for talks from Sophie Mazard (Macquarie University), Anna Simonin (University of Sydney) and Jeff Powell (University of Western Sydney).

Full details are listed on the JAMS website.