Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Highlights of ASM 2007 -- May 21

Monday's talks were all by well-known speakers and were pretty much overviews of topics rather than presentations of any new findings.

Gerry Wright gave an interesting talk on antibiotic resistance. He brought up the points that 1) according to molecular evolution half of all known antibiotics predate the Cambrian explosion and 2) environmental isolates that have never seen a clinical antibiotic quite often have genes for resistance. To understand the development of resistance, we have to stop thinking that the world revolves around humans; we've really stepped into a war between microbes that's been going on long before humans existed.

Ed Delong (one of my heroes) talked about the importance of oxygen-producing bacteria in the oceans and how people tend to forget about their existence and importance, despite these "prokaryotic forests of the sea" producing 50% of the atmospheric oxygen.

And E.O. Wilson (of ants and sociobiology fame) gave a keynote lecture on biodiversity, probably on the basis of his quip made some years ago that if he were a young scientist today, he would become a microbial ecologist rather than an entomologist. It was interesting to hear him talk, as I've heard his rivals Gould and Lewontin speak before, but clearly Wilson's talk was simply a recycled biodiversity of animals talk with a few slides about microbes added -- although I rather liked the (to the general public anyway) more famous Wilson talking about the importance of the work of Woese.

Pictured is the main hall of Union Station -- Toronto's version of New York's Grand Central Station.

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