Day 2 - FOMO: the peril of parallel sessions

Day 2 of the Eurobiofilms conference

Like Comment

I arrived early to the conference today, stupidly early. But I wasn't the first person there, that would have been Rob Exterkate who greeted me in the lobby. We had met on the previous day when I found myself on the wrong side of a key card barrier and he personally took me up 14 floors to re-join my group. I hadn't dealt with Rob in the email correspondence leading up to the conference but every time I had a problem, he miraculously appeared to solve it. Like the other two organisers, Bastiaan Krom and Michel Hoogenkamp, he seemed content and relaxed, everything was going well.

The second day opened with a keynote from Thomas Wood in the Red Room. He is one of the few academic speakers I know who dares to leave the podium and venture onto the open stage. This was a welcome change, especially given that the Red Room at Meervaart is a Theatre venue. Wood told us about his adventures, robbing various genes from environmental organisms and using them to engineer multispecies biofilms. He started off with a thought provoking quote that, “Most bacteria live quite lives of desperation…so they sleep”. This is really worth remembering as we tend to talk about bacteria being active, dividing, producing toxins and virulence factors. In actual fact, most of the time they are completely dormant, did someone say persisters? His take home message was that persisters are sleeping cells, not mutants – this will always go down well at a biofilm conference. He then went on to describe his incredibly varied research from uracil signalling in biofilms through to electricity production using methane by sampling sludge. Wood is a great story teller who wasn’t afraid to crack a joke or two, even if the audience wasn’t completely warmed up.

After the keynote came the FOMO. Although it sounds like a gene name, this is an abbreviation for Fear Of Missing Out which has become something we have had to deal with during this conference due to some incredible parallel sessions. Once again I found myself lodged in the Blue Room of Meervaart where I missed out on host response, vaccines and mixed species biofilms. I kept an eye on the session using the conference hashtag #EuroBf2017 but it was hard, because the sessions in the Blue Room were also very exciting.

We kicked off with Akos Kovaks and Sara Mitri chairing a session on Evolution and adaptation. Diversity is important in ecology and this was reflected in the talks. We learned how biofilms protect themselves from phage from Carey Nadell, how biofilms are a hotbed for antimicrobial resistance from Conor Frapwell as well as how interactions between species stabilise biofilm formation from Henriette Røder. We heard two examples of how division of labour works and fails in Pseudomonas (Catherine Armruster) and Bacillus (Akos Kovacs) as well as how nutrient gradients affect spatial structure of biofilms from Sara Mitri.

After a delicious lunch and an altercation with an angry coffee machine, I was back to the Blue Room for a session on Microenvironments and Physiology of infections biofilms. Dacheng Ren asked “do bacteria have a sleep number?” and showed some compelling evidence for material stiffness affecting biofilm formation. Spoiler alert, bacteria prefer softer surfaces. Rikke Louise Meyer the organiser of Biofilms 8 in 2018 gave some useful solutions to upgrade our in vitro models using serum and Karl-Jan Spittaels showed a very promising artificial sebum model that is able to grow Propionibacterium acnes and produce a raft of virulence factors. 

Ben Libberton

Science Communicator, Freelance

I'm a freelance science communicator, formerly a Postdoc in the biofilm field. I'm interested in how bacteria cause disease and look to technology to produce novel tools to study and ultimately prevent infection.