This week, in a stroke of luck coinciding with my conference presentation on the same topic, my review paper on microbial model communities came out in Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal. The paper (1) provides an overview of the existing microbial model communities that have been developed for different purposes and makes some recommendations on when to use what kind of community. I also make a deep-dive into community intrinsic-properties and how to capture and understand how microbes growing together interact in a way that is not predictable from how they grow in isolation.
The main take-home messages of the paper are that 1) there already exists a quite diverse range of microbial model communities – we probably don’t need a wealth of additional model systems, 2) there need to be better standardization and description of the exact protocols used – this is more important in multi-species communities than when species are grown in isolation, and 3) the researchers working with microbial model communities need to settle on a ‘gold standard’ set of model communities, as well as common definitions, terms and frameworks, or the complexity of the universe of model systems itself may throw a wrench into the research made using these model systems.
The paper was inspired by the work I did in Jo Handelsman‘s lab on the THOR model community (2), which I then have brought with me to the University of Gothenburg. In the lab, we are also setting up other model systems for microbial interactions, and in this process I thought it would be useful to make an overview of what is already out there. And that overview then became this review paper.
The paper is fully open-access, so there is really not much need to go into the details here. Go and read the entire thing instead (or just get baffled by Table 1, listing the communities that are already out there!)
- Bengtsson-Palme J: Microbial model communities: To understand complexity, harness the power of simplicity. Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal, in press (2020). doi: 10.1016/j.csbj.2020.11.043
- Lozano GL, Bravo JI, Garavito Diago MF, Park HB, Hurley A, Peterson SB, Stabb EV, Crawford JM, Broderick NA, Handelsman J: Introducing THOR, a Model Microbiome for Genetic Dissection of Community Behavior. mBio, 10, 2, e02846-18 (2019). doi: 10.1128/mBio.02846-18
As I have been indicating before, I will be presenting at the Microbiome & Probiotics Collaboration Forum in Rotterdam on May 18-20. In relation to this, I was asked to write a shorter blog post on (or, if you will, some type of extended abstract) what I will talk about, which is how simple model systems for microbial communities can be used to understand complex systems with loads of interactions, similar to how E. coli and yeast have enabled a much more wide-reaching understanding of molecular biology than just about those two single-celled organisms themselves. The entire post can be read here, and I hope that I will see you in Rotterdam in May!
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.
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!
This spring I am on part time parental leave with my son, and I have taken the opportunity to reshape this web site a bit – after all its design has not been updated since I launched the site in 2010. With the new site, I want to extend the scope of the web page a bit, focusing more on the lab I am setting up at the University of Gothenburg and less on myself alone. This will be a bit by bit process, and as you will notice most of the content does not yet reflect this change (yet).
The fact that I am on part-time parental leave (actually more like “most-time”) means that I will be slower than usual at responding to e-mails until (at least) the beginning of June. It also (sadly) means that I will have to decline a lot of nice invitations and proposals, or at least move them into the future when possible.
Finally, here’s a few things that will happen this year regardless. In April (16th to 18th), I will be at ICOHAR in Utrecht, where I will give a talk in a session on the role of the environment in the spread of antimicrobial resistance. Then in June, I will attend ASM Microbe in San Fransisco (June 20-24), where I will co-chair a session on Environmental Resistomes together with Ashley Shade. In this session I will also give a talk on the effect of antibiotics on interactions in microbial communities. However, I will not attend EDAR-5 in Hong Kong this year – there simply wasn’t time to fit that into the agenda as well. (Also, I am trying to cut down on air travel which contributed to the decision not to go this year.)
As the 8th Next Generation Sequencing Congress in London is drawing to a close as I write this, I have a few reflections that might warrant sharing. The first thing that has been apparent this year compared to the two previous times I have visited the event (in 2012 and 2013) is that there was very little talk about where Illumina sequencing is heading next. Instead the discussion was about the applications of Illumina sequencing in the clinical setting; so apparently this is now so mainstream that we only expect slow progress towards longer reads. Apart from that, Illumina is a completed, mature technology. Instead, the flashlight is now pointing entirely towards long-read sequencing (PacBio, NanoPore) as the next big thing. However, the excitement around these technologies has also sort of faded compared to in 2013 when they were soon-to-arrive. Indeed, it seems like there’s not much to be excited about in the sequencing field at the moment, or at least Oxford Global (who are hosting the conference) has failed to get these technologies here.
What also strikes me is the vast amounts of talk about RNAseq of cancer cells. The scope of this event has narrowed dramatically in the past three years. Which makes me substantially less interested in returning next year. If there is not much to be excited about, and the focus is only on cancer sequencing – despite the human microbiota being a very hot topic at the moment – what is the reason for non-cancer researchers to come to the event? There will need to be a stark shift towards another direction of this event if the arrangers want it to remain a broad NGS event. Otherwise, they may just as well go all in and rename the event the Next Generation Sequencing of Cancer Congress. But I hope they choose to widen the scope again; conferences discussing technology as a foundation for a variety of applications are important meeting points and spawning grounds for novel ideas.
Today the 15th Swedish Bioinformatics Workshop starts in Linköping. For the first time in many many years, I will not be there, which feels super-strange. (I even took part in organizing the workshop two years ago, in Gothenburg.) I would have thoroughly enjoyed the schedule (the workshops look amazing), and hope that everyone will have a very good time there without me. I do miss you! Please make sure I get another opportunity next year!
I just want to highlight that the paper on strategies to improve database accuracy and usability we recently published in Proteomics (1) has been included in their most recent issue, which is a special issue focusing on Data Quality Issues in Proteomics. I highly recommend reading our paper (of course) and many of the other in the special issue. Happy reading!
On another note, I will be giving a talk next Wednesday (October 5th) on a seminar day on next generation sequencing in clinical microbiology, titled “Antibiotic resistance in the clinic and the environment – There and back again“. You are very welcome to the lecture hall at floor 3 in our building at Guldhedsgatan 10A here in Gothenburg if you are interested! (Bear in mind though that it all starts at 8.15 in the morning.)
Finally, it seems that I am going to the Next Generation Sequencing Congress in London this year, which will be very fun! Hope to see some of you dealing with sequencing there!
- Bengtsson-Palme J, Boulund F, Edström R, Feizi A, Johnning A, Jonsson VA, Karlsson FH, Pal C, Pereira MB, Rehammar A, Sánchez J, Sanli K, Thorell K: Strategies to improve usability and preserve accuracy in biological sequence databases. Proteomics, 16, 18, 2454–2460 (2016). doi: 10.1002/pmic.201600034 [Paper link]
I have been asked to give a short talk on the metals and biocides and antibiotic resistance co-selection conference I mentioned in February. My presentation will take place late Tuesday afternoon, and is entitled “Elucidating biocide and metal co-selection for antibiotic resistance in sewage treatment plants using metagenomics“. I hope to see you there!
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA) is, together with Joakim Larsson, arranging a conference on the mechanisms and evidence for the involvement of metals and biocides in selection of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Several experts from around Europe will attend and give talks, including for example Dan Andersson, Kristian Brandt, Teresa Coque, Will Gaze, Åsa Melhus and Chris Rensing. The symposium is open to everyone and is free of charge (although registration is binding).