The Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phages Conference, traditionally held at Cold Spring Harbor and now being held in alternate years at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, is a central forum for the presentation of new results in prokaryotic molecular genetics. On the order of 200-400 participants attend, representing laboratories throughout the world, and most present either short talks or posters. Its breadth makes it an important focus for the exchange of information in this era of scientific specialization. Topics covered include fundamental work on bacterial replication, recombination, repair, transposition, transcription, control of gene expression, translation, signaling, heat shock, protein folding and secretion, stress response, cell development and division, and pathogenesis. In recent years, efforts have been made to include emerging areas such as genomics and metagenomics, sociomicrobiology, molecular ecology, structural biology and systems analysis. For many graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, this is the first large, international meeting at which they have an opportunity to speak. Due to is highly interactive nature, the meeting provides an important opportunity for these young scientists to meet and talk to the senior scientists they know from the literature. In response to the large numbers of students who attend the meeting and the diversity of topics covered, established and distinguished scientists are invited to chair each session. This strengthens the meeting because each chairperson gives a short introduction in which he or she summarizes some of the key facets of the field to be covered and provides a conceptual framework for the major questions that the talks will address. As an additional benefit, publicizing the judiciously chosen chairpeople and session topics in announcements of the meeting encourages the submission of abstracts in exciting new areas and stimulates attendance by a larger constituency.
The unicellular microorganisms known as bacteria can be found in almost all ecosystems on the planet, from extreme environments to the human gut. Humans have evolved robust immunity to live alongside many bacteria, and indeed to use bacteria in processes from cheese-making to biotechnology, but under adverse conditions, bacteria are responsible for many important infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, cholera or syphilis. Much as plants and animals have viruses, so bacteria can be infected by bacteriophages that alter their metabolism and biochemistry. Phages have been used by scientists for many decades as exquisite genetic tools to probe many fundamental aspects of the molecular machinery at work in bacteria. This work has helped us to understand how bacteria control their life cycle, how cells reproduce and divide, and how they survive in and sense their environment. Research is now shifting from how individual bacterial cells function to how colonies of microorganisms collaborate and survive, and how these colonies adapt to changes in their environment, in niches as varied as in the soil, under the sea, or in an animal or human host. This international conference will provide a forum for scientists working on related topics to share their latest discoveries and will bring together the leading experts in the field.