From the Chief Executive

Issue: Mind-altering microbes

10 February 2015 article

Microbes might be tiny, but they have a huge impact. One of the reasons for this is the sheer variety of different ways they affect our daily lives. Their direct medical impacts are starkly apparent to anyone who has been following the fight against the Ebola virus. Less well-known influences, such as the mind-altering properties of various viruses, bacteria and eukaryotes described in this issue of Microbiology Today, can be just as striking.

One of the core benefits of the Microbiology Society is that it allows specialised researchers easy access to a wide network of scientists and opportunities to understand their diverse interests.

I try hard to find time to learn more about this fascinating diversity; just by reading the short descriptions of the science done by this year’s Prize Lecturers, I was struck by the serendipitous links that have fuelled some major advances. Both David Baulcombe and George Lomonossoff started out studying plants but their work now has an impact in human medicine. Robin Weiss is famous as a major figure in understanding HIV and his studies now relate to a completely different disease – cancer. Mike Brockhurst is an evolutionary biologist and yet his work is directly applicable to cystic fibrosis. And if any further proof were needed of the unfathomable variety of microbial patterns and processes, Simon Park is studying the microbiology of an antique copy of Ovid’s epic poem, Metamorphoses.

It is important for the Society to reflect this range in its activities and that is one reason why we have an open call for your ideas on the subjects for Focused Meetings. The Focused Meeting last November, on using model systems to study microbial diseases, was a showcase for the diversity of microbes, models and maladies that members of the Society are working on. The participants are studying protozoa, fungi, bacteria and viruses using mice, insects, fish and little cubes of pig lung as their model systems, and all of them are revealing new and absorbing insights not just in their specialist interests but across a massive range of microbial impacts.

This almost overwhelming variety is one of the things that makes the Society’s Annual Conference such a positive experience. You can guarantee that as well as exciting developments in your own field, there will be sessions on a wide assortment of captivating microbiological impacts you had not previously thought about. There will be talks on biofilm production, sensory perception in microbes, the microbiome in health and disease, the building blocks of microbial evolution, virus ecology, and antimicrobial resistance. The speakers will range from distinguished professors to early-career students, and they will come from all over the world. They study every kind of microbe you can think of, using laboratory experiments, field trials and mathematical modelling. There really will be something for everyone.

So I look forward to seeing you in Birmingham next month. It will be my first Annual Conference as Chief Executive of the Society and it will be a wonderful opportunity to meet members face-to-face and to find out directly what you think we are doing well and what you want the Society to do in the future. The Society exists to serve the needs of the microbiology community and it is important to my colleagues and me that we understand how we can best do that. So at the Annual Conference, come and find me at the Society’s stand, collar me in one of the workshops or stop me while I’m reading the posters. I want to hear your views about the Microbiology Society and the scientific landscape in which you work. Equally importantly, I also want to know about the part you are playing in the scientific endeavour to understand the microbial world and its astonishing variety of influences on our lives.


Chief Executive
[email protected]