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UCI Microbiome Symposium 2019

Last Friday members of the lab attended the 7th annual Southern California Microbiome Symposium at UCI. There, we listened to a series of great talks spanning the world from land to sea!

First, we learned about the importance of dogs and the airborne microbiome from Dr. Jack Gilbert (UCSD). His research looked into the spread of microbes in several settings from within the hospital (tracking microbes from the staff to patients) and in different homes (couples with a dog versus couples with a baby). It was fascinating how individual microbiomes could be shared and tracked! Sadly, (at least for this true crime aficionado) while the degree of microbial similarity between individuals was quite unique, they are not unique enough to be used in a forensic context.

Next we heard from Dr. Holly Bik (who’s moving her lab to the University of Georgia!!) about the importance of the marine sediment microbiome. Surprisingly, there’s a great amount of diversity in the deep sea. Marine sediments act as a microbial “conveyor belt” that moves microbes and influences global oceanic diversity.

Next up was Dr. Alejandra Rodriguez (UCI) who told us about her research into eco-evolutionary feedback—how do microbial communities adapt and respond to changing environments? She told us about her work modeling synthetic communities and how they can be used to study both positive pairwise interactions between different bacteria.

A lot to take in on a Friday morning! But definitely a nice change of pace from our usual routine.

🍕 Our lab refueled with pizza and coffee (I’m still really sad that the espresso machine at the nearby cafe was broken…) and were ready to hear some more talks—especially since they were about our beloved phages.

Dr. Magda Barbu from Armata Pharmaceuticals gave us an inside look at the way Armata adapts traditional drug discovery methods and uses them for phage discovery. It was really interesting to hear about trials and tribulations in phage discovery and purification from a biotech perspective.

Dr. Martha Clokie (all the way from the University of Leicester, and who also spoke at Evergreen 2019!) then gave us a really inspirational (at least to me personally) talk about how persistence pays off when studying phages. Though she initially struggled to isolate phages from hospital fecal samples, she eventually found C. difficile phages in field samples and did a lot of exciting research characterizing and modeling their effectiveness in cell culture, hamsters, waxworms, and more! She will be the Editor-in-Chief of the upcoming PHAGE Journal in 2020.

Next up we started thinking with our gut with Dr. Elizabeth Bess (UCI)! Gut bacteria are involved in both the positive and negative events in human health. Her lab studies the underlying chemical messages that trigger changes from these events to one another. She looks at whether finding the origin of these gut reactions can allow you to restore microbiome function.

Besides using it in my coffee I haven’t given a lot of thought to milk recently, but Dr. David A. Mills (UCD) enlightened us to the wonders of human milk. Human milk has a lot of beneficial aspects to both human health and the beneficial bacteria that are present in the gut microbiome. His lab looks at questions such as the changes that have occurred in human milk composition in the last 100 year—why has the average pH of human milk gone from 5 to 6?—and what effects this has on the infant gut.

Finally, the seminars ended with Dr. Shaista Malik (M.D./Ph.D.) from UCI’s school of medicine telling us about microbiome testing and integrative medicine. From functional to integrative medicine, microbiome testing could be offered for certain conditions. Issues with autoimmune diseases and inflammation are diagnose-able and treatable given the right focus and approach. Interesting case studies about the effect of diet on human health are a great look at how microbiome research and testing can lead to better personalized healthcare.

After this series of really great talks, there was a reception (with delicious coconut shrimp🍤) and really great conversation. I personally enjoyed meeting people from different UC’s and companies that had a shared interest in microbiology and human health.

It almost looks like we like each other! :)

Our lab then ventured all the way to Crystal Cove to watch the sunset and share a few drinks before a science-chat-filled drive back to San Diego.

The UCI Microbiome Symposium was a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to next year’s already!

- Tiffany


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