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Biological Sciences
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August 2016

Day Two of ISME16: Microbe Fans Unite

ISME Board
An ISME16 roundtable on soil metagenomics – one of PNNL’s own research strengths – resulted in this dauntingly crowded image, a tweet from Nature Microbiology.

On Tuesday afternoon Aug. 23, the following tweet went out from a conference hall in Montreal: "Being able to study plasmids in soils, rhizosphere is so exciting!"

You are right: The tweet was from the 16th international symposium on microbial ecology, hosted by the International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME). Our own Janet K. Jansson is the group's current president and is among 15 PNNL attendees this year.

And right again: The tweet was from microbial ecologist Vanessa Bailey, who manages PNNL's Microbiology group in the Biological Sciences Division. She delivered one of three talks by PNNL scientists on Tuesday, the symposium's second of four days this week. (Attendees have Wednesday Aug. 24 off to sightsee and to confer offline.)

The Aug. 22-26 professional gathering at Palais des congrès de Montréal, dubbed ISME16, has drawn more than 2,000 attendees from around the world, including Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, Japan, New Zealand, and Russia. So far they have crowded into roundtables, invited talks, poster sessions, and other venues for exchanging information about the microbial universe, which affects the environment, our health, and the nature of Earth's climate.

The ISME16 Twittersphere on Tuesday was lively too, with tweets that occasionally strayed from enzyme profiles and diel cycling into the problems of managing microbiology and family at the same time.

During Tuesday's sessions, PNNL was represented at the podium by Bailey, who delivered a 30-minute talk to a very large audience; by EMSL chief scientist David A. Stahl, who holds a dual appointment at the University of Washington; and by Aaron Wright, a scientist and proteomics expert.

"Talk was great," Bailey reported later in a quick email. "I got some twitter love!"

And what was not to love? For one, the presentation title had a sonorous ring: "Integration of soil metagenomic and chemical data to identify microbial processes altered by simulated climate change after an 18-year soil transplant." Bailey and others published a paper this spring on the same experiment. The research was updated in the conference talk, and also acknowledged PNNL co-authors Lisa Bramer, Sarah Fansler, Nancy Hess, Alejandro Heredia-Langner, Lee Ann McCue, and Malak Tfaily.

Stahl delivered a talk on ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA), single-celled organisms that are part of an abundant domain of creatures morphologically similar to bacteria. AOA, fully described only 11 years ago, may be "major contributors to the atmospherically active gases methane and nitrogen oxides," wrote Stahl in an abstract. In his talk, he presented recent findings about how these consequential AOA microorganisms are distributed, and how they act, in natural systems.

Wright, a chemical biologist, delivered a talk entitled "Activity-based probing reveals new contributions for vitamin B12 in modulation of microbial protein activity and gene regulation." Within microbes and microbial communities, vitamin B12 is "a requisite and precious commodity," he wrote. Despite its importance, the many likely roles of vitamin B12 in microbial metabolism and gene regulation are not well understood. Wright described a strategy for learning more: an activity-based probe that mimics vitamin B12 and can be used to sweep up proteins likely tied to important microbial functions.

Wright's talk acknowledged his co-authors, including five from PNNL: Lindsey N. Anderson, Yukari Maezato, Thomas O. Metz, Premchendar Nandhikonda, and Margaret F. Romine.

Poster sessions are a staple activity at science conferences, giving voice to many new additional projects and research. At ISME16, with authors standing by, 10 PNNL posters are on display, including those that touch on microbial activity in thawed permafrost, prairie pothole region lakes, biofilm, and hypersaline ecosystems. Another 13 posters on display include contributions from PNNL scientists.

Aside from the speakers mentioned, other PNNL researchers joined Jansson at the symposium: Hans Bernstein, Eric Bottos, David Hoyt, David Koppenaal, Mary Lipton, Lee Ann McCue, Jim Moran, Ljiljana Pasa-Tolic, Taniya RoyChowdhury, Hyun-Seob Song, and Richard A. White III.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of ISME and the 10th anniversary of its influential journal.


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