A PhD student's report from the third Young Microbiologists Symposium

Issue: Water

17 November 2014 article

MT Nov 2014 international signalling

On 2 and 3 June this year I was lucky enough to attend the Young Microbiologists Symposium (YMS) at the University of Dundee sponsored in part by the Microbiology Society. This was an international conference aiming to bring together young and early career microbiologists organised by members Robert Ryan and Sarah Coulthurst from the University of Dundee.

This year the meeting carried the themes of microbial signalling, organisation and pathogenesis. Each of the five sessions were opened by a renowned expert in the area of the designated session with the rest of the talks given by a mixture of junior principal investigators, postdoctoral fellows and PhD students.

The conference kicked off with the EMBO-sponsored lecture by Urs Jenal from the Biozentrum at Universität Basel. Professor Jenal delivered an elegant and entertaining talk describing the role of the intracellular second messenger molecule cyclic di-GMP in the development and life cycle of Caulobacter crescentis. Resonances of the theme of cyclic di-GMP and intracellular signalling were carried forward throughout the morning session and indeed much of the conference.

In the afternoon session on host–microbe interactions, Sophie Helaine, a starting Principal Investigator from Imperial College London gave a fascinating talk on her model for identifying replicating and non-replicating Salmonella typhimurium cells living inside macrophages by using fluorescent markers that designate bacterial generations. In the same session was Alexander Westermann, a PhD student from Professor Jorg Vogel’s group in Würzburg, who gave a talk on his work looking at the transcriptomes of pathogen and host cells during infection using dual RNA sequencing.

On the second day, in the first session on cellular development, Lotte Søgaard-Andersen from Philipps-Universität in Germany set the tone with a talk on cell morphogenesis in Myxococcus xanthus, an organism well known for activating a multicellular developmental programme in response to starvation. Another enlightening talk in the same session was given by Rut Carballido-López from INRA in France, who discussed, among other things, the work in her lab to gain a detailed understanding of how the actin-like protein, MreB, gives bacteria shape.

A vast selection of posters were also on display covering a wide variety of topics, from surveys of the microbiota associated with plant tissues to synthetic biology approaches for biohydrogen production to metabolic adaptation of Clostridium difficile.

A personal highlight of the second day was a series of short talks all given by PhD students who were presenting some of these posters at the conference. For any starting PhD student it was definitely encouraging and inspiring to see my peers giving such articulate and interesting talks. One of these, given by Carla Brown from the University of Glasgow, described the use of naturally occurring colicins, antibacterial peptides produced by Escherichia coli under stressful conditions, as a potential new antibiotic treatment that may one day be administered in a probiotic supplement. Also in this session, Valerie O’Brien from the University of Washington gave a stellar talk on her work on vaccines for chronic urinary tract infections.

YMS 2014 was in short an inspirational meeting of minds from across the globe, where the big hitters of the future held their ground on the same bill as the big hitters of today. The meeting as a whole for an attendee was really enjoyable with opportunities to meet other PhD students from other universities as well as some of the leaders in the field – not to mention dancing with them at the ceilidh at the close of the meeting. As a starting PhD student I felt it gave me a valuable insight about the field and the research community in microbiology today besides being a real joy to attend.


University of Dundee

John Allan has just started as a PhD student in the Division of Molecular Microbiology, College of Life Sciences at the University of Dundee under a BBSRC funded fellowship.

Image: Alexander Westermann (Institute for Molecular Infection Biology, Würzburg) asking one of the keynote speakers a question. John Allan..