Annual conference, Microbiology Society (2022, Belfast)

I recently attended the Annual Conference of the Microbiology Society, which was held in Belfast. This was my first time attending this meeting, and I was a bit nervous that as a genomics researcher/someone who wouldn’t know a colony from his elbow I might not be able to follow much. This proved to be unfounded, and I was really happy to see that genomics is becoming a routine part of many microbiology studies, rather than a separate area (machine learning if anything seems to be the new bogeyman – I look forward to the hype settling down).

I also hadn’t really appreciated how much I’d missed talking to people old and new about their work and lives, and how much more I was able to focus when in the room rather than on my laptop. Overall I left feeling much more energised about science, infectious disease research, and my own research than I have in… probably years!

Some talks I liked

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but to highlight some memorable talks for me:

  • Seán O’Donoghue gave a talk on his work visualising work from various domains, and lots of points on how/why of visualisations in science. I was particularly impressed by his lab’s work on SARS-CoV-2 protein structure.
  • Caro Kobras gave a talk on her work on pde1 (an important part of a signalling pathway in Streptococcus pneumoniae), showing both through population genomics and lab-knock outs how loss of this gene can be part of the pathway to beta-lactam resistance. [we had previously found some evidence of frequent loss of function of this gene, but this study was much more comprensive and featured multiple lines of evidence]
  • Gemma Langridge gave a talk on her group’s work on defining structural rearrangements of the Salmonella typhi genome, and how these relate to genome-wide changes in gene expression and adaptation to the environment.
  • Nichloas Dimonaco gave a talk motivated by his previous paper benchmarking gene finding tools, finding that identifying the correct start codon was the usual failure mode, and instead annotating and aligning stop-to-stop regions to avoid throwing away misannotated CDS. This is implemented in a tool called StORF-Reporter.
  • I only caught the end of Evangelos Mourkas‘ talk on interspecies recombination in Campylobacter, but it was a masterclass in dealing with difficult questions.

In person?

A quick note on virtual/hybrid/in-person meetings as they become possible again. I have seen this debate summarised as ‘some people hate travel, some people love it, we should compromise’ which I think I basically agree with. Perhaps linking to some of the research here might even be helpful for those not able to attend. Anyway, I hope something that works for both groups will become the norm. (I have never been on the organising committee for an international conference, but I thought that this thread from Jerome Kelleher had some useful insights from one of his own experiences.)

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