The tremendous progress of high throughput technologies including DNA sequencing and proteomics is rapidly advancing the understanding of beneficial microbe-host interactions. Most animals and plants depend upon associations with coevolved communities of microorganisms that play critical roles in physiological balance and maintaining homeostasis. Recognition of these phenomena is revolutionizing how biologists view the function of the normal microbiota with respect to their association with hosts. The Beneficial Microbes Conference is unique in cutting across disciplines by bringing together ecologists, microbiologists, molecular biologists and computational biologists that have the common goal to understand the mechanisms and benefits of microbial interactions with a variety of hosts, from plants to humans. The conference will be held in San Antonio, Texas as a convenient central location in the United States. The aim is to provide a forum for increasing cross-disciplinary interactions and thus to develop new insights and approaches to the study of beneficial host-microbe interactions. This field is currently very popular as demonstrated by past scientist attendance to this conference series, including graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. To assure a broad representation, the organizational committee has well balanced demographic representation. One third of the invited speakers are junior (pre-tenure), and 6 of 19 invited speakers are women. Of the 36 contributed oral presentations, 17 (47%) will be selected from submitted abstracts, ensuring ample high-visibility for students and postdocs with innovative ideas. As in the previous meetings, the selection process for these student and postdoc presentations will focus on junior researchers, women and minorities. Students at underrepresented minority institutions will also be targets for support. The proposal budget includes 5 travel awards for minority graduate students, and the awardees will be selected based on the quality of their abstracts. Only poster presenters who are U.S. citizens will receive travel support.

Project Report

This report describes the results of support provided by the National Science Foundation for the 4th American Society for Microbiology Beneficial Microbes Conference (BMC), which was held October 22-26, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency in San Antonio, Texas. The conference was an American Society for Microbiology-sponsored meeting devoted to exploring the frontier field of the role of beneficial bacteria in health and disease. We are very grateful to the NSF for supporting the meeting. Detailed here are the meeting objectives and outcome. The funding provided by NSF was used in support of the registration costs of the students attending the meeting. Conference Objective The primary objective of this meeting was to provide a forum for researchers in diverse fields to discuss and exchange ideas regarding the role of beneficial bacteria and other microbes in health and disease, and to consider how best the field might continue to develop as an effective discipline. A defining principle of this Conference is that the complexity and novelty of this field demands a broad array of scientific expertise to reveal the mechanisms that underlie host-microbial interactions. Thus, the Beneficial Microbes Conference (both past, current, and future) has a distinctively multidisciplinary tone. Conference Format and Agenda The meeting sessions at the 2012 BMC explored the current state of the field of beneficial host-microbial interactions and defined new research directions. The first session highlighted a new focus of the Conference: the human microbiome. This was very timely as the key publications from the Human Microbiome Project were published early that year. The second session was also new focusing on beneficial microbes in the environment. The third session focused on beneficial microbe-immune system interactions. The fourth session was devoted to exploring inter-kingdom signaling. Signaling between beneficial microbes and the host is critical in establishing a healthy and stable interaction. In the fifth session, we examined the common theme of the conference "the role of beneficial microbes in health and disease". The final session represents the new frontier in symbiosis research and was entitled "Systems Biology of Symbiotic Systems." Each of the 6 session had 3 or 4 invited speakers and 3 speakers chosen from the submitted abstracts. With the invited speakers our aim was to highlight recent technical and conceptual breakthroughs in a given topic area, while the speakers chosen from abstracts allowed for late-breaking new insights and innovative ideas, particularly from junior researchers. In addition, the Conference program included four plenary talks, delivered by leaders in the diverse fields represented at the conference. Liping Zhao (Shanghai Jiao Tong University) who spoke about the role the microbiome in obesity; Rob Knight (University of Colorado) presented information about the microbiome at different human body sites; Heidi Goodrich-Blair (University of Wisconsin) talked about the role of a nematode and its beneficial microbes in pest control; Thomas Bosch (Kiel University) addressed the role of the innate immune system in shaping the composition of the microbiome; Lora Hooper (University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center) spoke about how the gut epithelium senses microbes and nutrients; Ute Hentschel (University of Würzburg) described how the sponge microbiome was important in health and disease. Edward Ruby (University of Wisconsin) integrated host and symbiont information across different levels of analysis. In addition to providing substantial new scientific insight into host-microbial interactions, the plenary speakers were critical for integrating and connecting the varied topic areas of the different sessions. Conference Participation The conference had 174 registered participants. The conference was internationally attended, with attendees from 21 countries, and 22% of participants were from countries other than the United States. In planning the conference program, we endeavored to have broad representation among the invited speakers. 28% of the invited speakers were junior (pre-tenure) and 43% were women. Of the 39 total oral presentations, 18 (46%) were selected from submitted abstracts, ensuring ample high visibility for new and innovative ideas and for junior researchers to showcase their work. Conference Survey Summary The attendees expressed very positive opinions about the conference. One third of the participants completed a survey conducted by the ASM, which can be summarized as follows: The 4th Beneficial Microbes meeting was held in San Antonio, TX in 2012 with 175 participants. Among the 52 who responded to the survey, 98% described the speakers’ effectiveness was excellent or very good and would recommend the meeting to colleagues, and a clear majority favored a meeting in 2014.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Integrative Organismal Systems (IOS)
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Mary Beth Saffo
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American Society for Microbiology
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