Welcome

My name is Johan Bengtsson-Palme. I am an assistant professor at the Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg, Sweden. My research group works with microbiology and microbial ecology, primarily focusing on investigating antibiotic resistance and interactions in bacterial communities through large-scale experimental work, metagenomics and bioinformatics. I also have an interest in molecular taxonomy and improving the quality of reference databases. You can read more about our research interests here. We work closely with the groups of Joakim Larsson, Jo Handelsman, Erik Kristiansson and Henrik Nilsson. To contact me, feel free to send an e-mail to my firstname.lastname@microbiology.se

Grant successes!

I am a bit late on the ball here, but January was a great month for the lab in terms of funding. First, we got awarded an Sahlgrenska Academy International Starting Grant – a faculty grant for young researchers comprising of 1 million SEK, intended to support the overall research plan for the lab.

The second grant was awarded by the Centre for Antibiotic Resistance Research (CARe) at the University of Gothenburg and is a project grant focusing on opportunistic pathogens and their role in the emergence and transmission of antibiotic resistance. For this project, we got almost 600,000 SEK over two years to investigate how genes enhancing invasion ability and virulence interact with selection for antibiotic resistance in opportunistic pathogens. The project is somewhat related to the work I did in Prof. Jo Handelsman‘s lab, but extends it to more mechanistic details about how these phenomena are interconnected.

Conferences and a PhD position

Here’s some updates on my Spring schedule.

On March 19, I will be presenting the EMBARK program and what we aim to achieve at a conference organised by the Swedish Medical Products Agency called NordicMappingAMR. The event will feature an overview of existing monitoring of antibiotics and antibiotic resistant bacteria in the environment. The conference aims to present the results from this survey, to listen to experts in the field and to discuss possible progress. It takes place in Uppsala. For any further questions, contact Kia Salin at NordicMappingAMR@lakemedelsverket.se

Then on May 18 to 20 I will participate in the 7th Microbiome & Probiotics R&D and Business Collaboration Forum in Rotterdam. This industry/academia cross-over event focuses on cutting-edge microbiome and probiotics research, and challenges and opportunities in moving research towards commercialisation. I will talk on the work we do on deciphering genetic mechanisms behind microbial interactions in microbiomes on May 20.

And finally, I also want to bring the attention to that my collaborator Erik Kristiansson has an open PhD position in his lab. The position is funded by the Environmental Dimensions of Antibiotic Resistance (EDAR) research project, aiming to describe the environmental role in the development and promotion of antibiotic resistance. The focus of the PhD position will be on analysis of large-scale data, with special emphasis on the identification of new forms of resistance genes. The project also includes phylogenetic analysis and development of methods for assessment of gene evolution. More info can be found here.

FEMS Microbiology Reviews Award

We have been awarded with the first best article award from FEMS Microbiology Reviews for our 2018 review Environmental factors influencing the development and spread of antibiotic resistance. I and my co-authors Joakim Larsson and Erik Kristiansson are honoured and – of course – very happy with this recognition of our work. I was interviewed in relation to the prize, an interview that can be read here. But, also, the paper is open access, so you can go and check it all out in its full glory right now!

Open postdoc position

We are hiring a postdoc to work with environmental monitoring of antimicrobial resistance. The project is part of the EMBARK program and will consider different aspects of establishing a baseline for background antibiotic resistance in the environment, standardization of monitoring protocols and development of methods to detect emerging resistance threats. The project will involve work with environmental sampling, DNA extractions, bacterial culturing and generation of large-scale DNA sequence data. In terms of bioinformatic analyses, the project will encompass analysis of next-generation sequence data, genome-resolved metagenomics, short-read assembly and network analysis.

We look for a skilled bioinformatician, preferably with experience of experimental laboratory work. If you feel that you are the right person for this position, you can apply here. More information is also available here. We look forward to your application! The deadline for applications is January 3.

Quick update on the PhD position

I just wanted to very quickly brief applicants to the recently announced PhD position in the lab. We got 71 applications in total, most of which I consider relevant for the position. The bottom line is that this will take a few days to go through, but we are working on it, and will get in touch with the top candidates when we are done. I would, however, already like to thank everyone who applied – it’s amazing that you want to spend your time doing research that I find exiting!

EMBARK funded by JPIAMR

I am very happy to announce today (on the European Antibiotic Awareness Day), that the EMBARK project that I am coordinator for got funded by JPIAMR with almost 1.4 million Euros over three years!

The primary goal of EMBARK is to establish a baseline for how common resistance is in the environment and what resistance types that can be expected where. That background data will then underpin efforts to standardize different methods for resistance surveillance and identify high-priority targets that should be used for efficient monitoring. In addition, EMBARK will develop and evaluate methods to detect new resistance factors and thereby provide an early-warning system for emerging resistance threats.

EMBARK is an international collaboration funded by JPIAMR. The consortium consists of myself, Thomas Berendonk (TU-Dresden, Germany), Luis Pedro Coelho (Fudan University, China), Sofia Forslund (ECRC Max-Delbrück-Centrum für Molekulare Medizin, Germany), Etienne Ruppé (INSERM, France) and Rabaab Zahra (Quaid-i-Azam University, Pakistan).

EMBARK has a website where the protocols and data generated during the project will be released. Follow our progress towards better monitoring of antimicrobial resistance in the environment here and on the EMBARK Twitter account: @EMBARK_JPIAMR!

Open PhD position

We are hiring a PhD student to work with effects of antibiotics on microbial communities! The project will use large-scale techniques to investigate how sub-inhibitory concentrations of antibiotics affect microbial communities. Specifically, the project will examine how the ability for bacteria to colonize and invade established microbial communities is impacted by antibiotics. The project will also explore how antibiotics influence the interactions between different species in bacterial communities and if this may change their ability to withstand invasions. The goal is to identify the genes and mechanisms that contribute to change and stability in microbial communities.

A cool thing about this position is that it is fairly adaptable to the eventual candidate, and the project can be somewhat tailored to suit the profile of the PhD student. This means that we’re looking for someone who is either a bioinformatician or an experimentalist (or both). Previous experience with microbial communities is a plus, but not a must.

If you feel that you are the right person for this position, you can apply here. More information is also available here. We look forward to your application! The deadline for applications is December 9.

Swedish Bioinformatics Workshop 2019

The final schedule is out for the Swedish Bioinformatics Workshop (SBW) 2019! I will be there (after all, it is in Gothenburg and I am in the organising committee…) and will give a workshop on sequence annotation errors on Monday afternoon. And then on Tuesday afternoon, I will participate in a panel discussion on careers in computational biology, organised by RSG-Sweden. I hope I will see you there!

ITSx bug fixes

ITSx has been updated with some minor bug fixes (solving bugs that caused big problems for a small subset of users).

The first bug was that the no detections file generated in a previous file was not removed before it was written to (if it happened to have the same name in a subsequent run). This could cause weird errors where sequences which were not part of the input file were reported as not detected, and subsequently inconsistent counts for the number of missing sequences. This bug should now be fixed (although I have to admit that it is hard to test for this error in all possible scenarios).

The second bug was very serious for anyone who worked with ITS sequences from Chlorophyta. The ‘-t’ option did not accept ‘G’ (the code for Chlorophyta) as an option, while it did accept ‘green algae’ or ‘chlorophyta’. The Chlorophyta profiles were also included in the default ‘all’ profiles mode, and thus this error did not manifest itself for the vast majority of users. I am sorry for the mess this must have caused for the Chlorophyta researchers using ITSx and thank the users of the software for pointing this error out.

Sorry for these bug fixes taking so long! It has been a very unusual and stressful spring and summer, and I hope to be able to be more responsive in the future. The new update brings ITSx to version 1.1.2. No other changes except the two bug fixes have been made in this version.

Goodbye Adriana and Welcome Emil

The shift to October marked the last days that our visiting doctoral student Adriana Osińska spent in the lab. Adriana was working on the sequencing data generated from the invasion experiments I performed in Jo Handelsman’s lab. She managed to dig out a great number of genes that seems to have an influence on bacterial community invasion success. Those genes are now candidate genes that will be tested in follow-up studies, which brings us to….

That I forgot to introduce our newest lab member – Emil Burman! Emil is a master student performing his thesis project in the lab and will stay with us until May 2020. Emil will work on experimentally characterizing the candidate genes that Adriana has identified. We are excited to have Emil in the lab and think that he has been off to a great start already. Welcome Emil!

Adriana will no go back to Poland to complete here PhD thesis early next year. We have loved to have her in the lab and she has contributed with data and analyses of tremendous value. We wish her all the best of luck with defending her thesis!