Conference: Microbiome + Tech

Summary of 2016 International Symposium on Nanobiotechnology

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A week ago I attended a great symposium on Nanobiotechnology at UCLA.

This was a very broad conference on how to apply advances in the fields of chemistry and physics to treat disease. It was very interesting for me to get perspectives on things like cancer therapeutics that I don’t read about on a daily basis, however, there were several very interesting talks about the microbiome. I’d like to give my summary of them here.

Jeff Miller spoke about “The Unified Microbiome Initiative: a Call for Transformative Tools”. This was a call to arms to both microbiologists and the “tech guys” (for want of a better phrase) in the audience to come together. I don’t need to tell the people here that the microbiome field has come a long way. Jeff’s point is that now, there is a lot of potential both in the biology that can be addressed as well as the technology available to develop new tools. If we make a concerted effort to work together, then we can make even bigger strides into the future.

We’re talking about dynamic microbiomes with high temporal resolution. We want to understand dynamic interations between genes and cellular chemistries. And finally we want even higher throughput and the means by which to handle the data produced. And we want it soon, 5-10 years please.

A lot to ask? Probably.

Possible? From Jeff Miller and his colleagues it is a resounding yes!

Call to arms from Jeff Miller. Need for tools to study microbiome. @CNSI_UCLA #nanobio
— Ben Libberton (@benlibberton) February 5, 2016

There was an inspiring talk from Pieter Dorrestein who talked about “3D Cartography of Microbiome Chemistry”. Pieter’s work has been widely covered by the international press and it’s easy to see why. He is mapping microbiomes to physical locations using RNA sequencing and mass spec to producing some jaw-dropping visualisations. One of the problems in such an approach is the data acquisition, storage and analysis which is not a trivial matter. However, Pieter and his collaborators did this and the results speak for themselves. Moreover, now the doors are open for us to follow and use this technology for our own important microbiome related questions.

Very cool! Mapping #metabolomics and #microbiome to spatial locations @NIHDirector #nanobio
— Ben Libberton (@benlibberton) February 5, 2016

Elaine Hsiao also told us about “Microbiome-Nervous System Interactions”. This a fascinating and important field of research. The evidence in the research for our microbiome affecting behaviour is strong and compelling, however, the potential for misinterpretation especially in media is high and potentially very dangerous. That being said, Elaine carefully cited a lot of literature on the subject (here is a nice review and then showed us some of here own work that implied probiotics might be a way to treat serotonin related diseases in the future. It’s scary but not farfetched to think that what we eat is affecting our brain in ways we couldn't have imagined.

can bacteria be used to treat serotonin related diseases? @pipethero #nanobio
— Ben Libberton (@benlibberton) February 5, 2016

Agneta Richter-Dahlfors also had an inspiring message about "taking the agar plate and making it high throughput". This is her response to developing a nanowell slide capable of high-level multiplexing of the common phenotypic assays used in antimicrobial susceptibility testing in clincical microbiology labs all around the world. By high-level, I mean that in their paper, they are capable of performing 672 phenotypic assays in the area of a microscope slide using a standard plate reader and detecting antibiotic resistance within 4 hours.

The agar plate goes high throughput. A Richter-Dahlfors @karolinskainst #nanobio
— Ben Libberton (@benlibberton) February 5, 2016

So this was my summary. It was a great conference, I always get really inspired seeing what is possible when truly interdisciplinary research takes place.

A Twitter account of the entire conference can be found here:

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.