Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Highlights of ASM 2007 -- May 22

There were many shorter (30 min) talks today, so I'll focus on a few that I found most interesting. Janet Siefert gave a interesting talk on her studies of the "living stomatolites" (large cyanobacterial colonies) of the Mexican desert and how they and associated organisms live under such phosphorous-limiting conditions. Particularly interesting was her discovery of a new species of Bacillus that had many apparent cyanobacterial-derived genes. Janet was replacing Ken Nealson (who couldn't attend for health reasons). I had been hoping to meet Ken as one of the many hats he wears is head of the environmental microbiology division of the JCVI, meaning that he's technically been my boss since mid April. Oh well.

Susan Glasauer
talked about her work in studying the biodiversity of metal-reducing bacteria in the Jura mountains of Switzerland. There's more growing there than wine grapes (although the same iron-rich soil that makes for such good wine country is also partly responsible for the microbial diversity)

And to finish off the day, the father of bacterial and archaeal (no, I won't say the "p" word) biodiversity studies, Norm Pace himself, gave an special award lecture as he had been chosen for this year's Abbot-ASM Lifetime Achievement Award. While he made his usual arguments against the use of the word "prokaryote" (which I fully agree with in theory, if not entirely in practice), I found it interesting that he now considers the rRNA tree to represent the nuclear lineage (shades of Jim Lake) rather than the organismal tree.


Jonathan Eisen said...

The "p" word should not be viewed so poorly. It just should be used as a descriptive term like "photosynthetic" or "prosthecate" rather than a phylogenetic term.

PonderingFool said...

It just should be used as a descriptive term like "photosynthetic" or "prosthecate" rather than a phylogenetic term.
Which is how it should be but you get people who do confuse the issue. It is much easier in a paper to say prokaryote than archaea and bacteria or non-eukaryote.

neilfws said...

To me, it just carries its literal meaning - "before (without) (membrane-bound) nucleus". I hadn't even realised that people used the word phylogenetically, rather than descriptively.

I guess that those who gave us Archaea are keen to keep them distinct, but why rob us of a useful word.

Jonathan Badger said...

Yeah, that's why I don't really agree with banning the word "prokaryotic" in practice -- it's useful, even if one believes it is phylogenetically incorrect, much like the use of the singular "their" in English when we really mean to say "his or her" (example: "Everyone needs to turn in their exam booklet now" instead of "Everyone needs to turn in his or her exam booklet now")