Welcome to Eurobiofilms 2017
Keynotes from Phil Marsh and Kim Lewis
I walked into the Meervart building in Amsterdam and was greeted by a man with a huge smile on his face. Nearly 300 people were milling round, drinking coffee and putting up posters. As one of the organisers, Michel Hoogenkamp was visibly happy to see all of his hard work coming to fruition. As I headed towards the main auditorium, or the “Red Room” as it is called in Meervaart, I passed Bastiaan Krom, President of the Organising Committee who had a similar look on his face. It’s quite comforting and rare to see two of the people in charge of a conference looking so relaxed, it was a clear indication that we were in for a good day.
I’m sure it helped that the official start of the conference happened the day before, when the Godfather of Oral Ecology, Phil Marsh, gave his opening lecture. This was the only time I’ve ever seen an academic audience cheering (including the Nobel Lectures). Marsh managed to get each side of the auditorium to cheer for one of the bugs in his computer simulation which showed how saliva acidification affected species abundance. Showmanship aside, it was a pleasure to listen him, he effortlessly demonstrated his profound knowledge of the field with an acute awareness of the cutting edge where his research clearly lies. Despite the fun and engaging lecture on oral microbiology, I left the auditorium with the distinct feeling that I needed to brush my teeth. Unfortunately, they didn’t have toothbrushes at the reception, only beer. I had beer.
The second keynote of the conference was by the in-demand Kim Lewis. Most people in microbiology have heard the story of teixobactin, the new antibiotic against Gram-positive organisms that nature forgot to develop a resistance mechanism too. His famous anecdote left the room palpably silent, “when I told my colleagues I couldn’t develop resistance to teixobactin they said, send me the compound and I’ll send you a resistant strain. I’m still waiting on that strain”. Despite this huge discovery, the teixobactin story made up only a fraction of his talk. Lewis showed time after time how logical and critical thinking have led some impressive discoveries, especially related to persister cells with real potential to impact the clinic. Like Marsh, Kim Lewis was incredibly humble in his talk, citing the brilliance of his team at every step along the way.
After Kim Lewis’ keynote I moved from the “Red Room” to the “Blue Room” at Meervaart where I seemed to remain entrenched for the rest of the day. This meant that I had to tear myself away from the parallel session happening in the Red Room and I missed amazing talks on the Oral Biofilm, Development of Resistance and Systems Biology. But, the Blue Room was very exciting. The first session on medical device related infections was diverse and taught us that innovations in the lab need thorough validation before they can be used in the clinic. The second session focussed on environmental biofilms related to health and disease. Here I was disturbed to learn that an opportunistic pathogenic fungus might be lurking in my dishwasher but it was refreshing to see environmental microbiology combining with health and disease to address common problems. In the final session of the day, we heard about the biofilm matrix. Surprisingly, this was also a very diverse session where we discovered that the biofilm matrix alone can cause tooth decay in response to sucrose and that some very smart engineers are developing cool tools to help us study the biofilm matrix in evermore detail.