The 2017 Symposium of the Belgian Society for Microbiology, organized jointly with the National Committee for Microbiology and supported by the Royal Academies for Science and the Arts of Belgium (RASAB), occured on Friday October 20th at the Palace of the Academies in Brussels.
The Symposium included contributions from each of the four newly created BSM sections: General Microbiology (section A), Applied and Environmental Microbiology (section B), Medical and Veterinary Microbiology (section C) and Host and Microbes interactions (section D). By fostering interactions between microbiologists of different orientations and by presenting major inspiring achievements, this Symposium aimed at cross-fertilizing the different disciplines and fields of Microbiology.
The one-day event consisted of five sessions of oral presentations and four parallel poster sessions. The first four sessions, contributed by the sections are kicked off with a plenary lecture given by a high-profile international scientist and followed by two short talks given by scientists selected among the poster presenters. The fifth oral session consisted of a lecture given by a prominent microbiologist working in Belgium, elected by the BSM Board of Governors and the BSM Advisory Board, in recognition of an exceptional achievement. The posters presentations were also organized in four sessions matching the BSM sections. Four poster prizes, one per section, were awarded at the end of the Symposium.
The plenary lecture proposed by Section A (General Microbiology) was given by Eric Cascales (Marseille, France), a leader in the field of protein secretion by bacteria. Dr Eric Cascales obtained his Ph.D. in Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology from the “Université de la Méditerranée” (Marseille, France) in the laboratory of Roland Lloubès, on the characterization of TolQR proteins that energize TolA in Escherichia coli. He also characterized the role of the Pal lipoprotein in E. coli. The Tol-Pal system helps to the constriction of outer membrane in dividing Gram negative bacteria. In 2002, he moved for a post-doc in the laboratory of Peter J. Christie at the University of Texas in Houston (UTH). There, he engineered a new technique termed transfer DNA immunoprecipitation (TrIP), that allowed him to identify, for the very first time, contacts between a DNA substrate (T-DNA) and 6 out of 12 components of the VirB/D4 conjugation system of the phytopathogen Agrobacterium tumefaciens. This groundbreaking results defined, for the first time, the translocation pathway for a DNA substrate through a bacterial conjugation machine, specifying the contributions of each subunit of the secretory apparatus to substrate passage (Science, 2004). Since 2007, Eric Cascales is leading his own research group at the “Laboratoire d’Ingénierie des Systèmes Macromoléculaires” (LISM) in Marseille. He is mainly deciphering the assembly mechanism of the two type VI and type IX protein secretion systems. With his team, he recently unravelled the role of the TssA complex on the assembly of the type VI secretion system (Nature, 2016).
The plenary lecture proposed by section B (Applied and Environmental Microbiology) was given by Rainer Meckenstock (Duisburg-Essen, Germany), an expert in bioremediation. Dr Rainer Meckenstock graduated first as civil engineer at the Technical University Stuttgart in 1985, subsequently as a Master in Biology at the University of Konstanz. In 1993, he obtained his PhD at the ETH-Zürich in the Institute for Molecular Biology and Biophysics. From 1993, he had postdoc positions at several institutes; the Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology EAWAG, Dübendorf (1993-1995) and Senior scientist at University of Konstanz in the Microbial Ecology group (1996-2000). Between 2001 and 2003, he was Group leader for Geomicrobiology at the Chair for Environmental Mineralogy and faculty member at the Center for Applied Geosciences, University of Tübingen, Germany. Between 2004 and 2014, he was the director of the Institute for Groundwater Ecology at the Helmholtz Zentrum Münich, the German Research Center for Environmental Health. The Institute employed ca. 70 people working in 6 groups on aquifer ecosystem services. He was also full professor at the Technical University of Münich (TUM) in parallel to his institute director position at the Helmholtz Zentrum München. From 2014 on, he is full professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany and head of the Biofilm Centre and scientific director of the IWW, Mülheim, Germany. His scientific achievements start with his work on Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). He published several pioneering papers on the anaerobic degradation of naphthalene and methylnaphthalene, which are the only well-described anaerobic pathways for PAHs today. He also discovered novel enzyme reactions such as naphthalene carboxylase, which is a novel reaction to biology and chemistry. He was also one of the pioneers to introduce compound specific isotope analysis in bioremediation for better characterization of biodegradation processes in contaminated aquifers. He used this knowhow for identifying limitations of biodegradation in the field and developed the so-called “plume fringe concept”. In relation to this, he developed a novel bioremediation technology by implementing biobarriers with iron oxide nano-particles in contaminated aquifers. Recently he discovered microbial life in oil, which resulted in a publication in Science Aug. 2014.
The plenary lecture proposed by Section C (Medical and Veterinary Microbiology) was given by Christina Ehrardt (Münster, Germany), who pioneers models of dual infection with influenza viruses and bacteria. Dr Christina Ehrhardt received her PhD from Würzburg University, Germany, where she studied the host signalling pathways that are induced upon influenza virus infections and that lead to kinase activation and cytokine expression. During her postdoc at the Institute of Molecular Medicine of the Heinrich-Heine-University of Düsseldorf she started to investigate the different functions of the phosphatidylinositol-3 kinase (PI3K) during influenza virus infection. In 2005 she moved to the University of Münster and continued her studies on PI3K-mediated signalling. In 2013 she obtained the postdoctoral lecture qualification at the Medical Faculty of the Westfälische-Wilhelms-University in Münster. Dr. Ehrhardt identified PI3K as a seemingly antiviral cellular factor that is misused by the virus at several stages of the replication cycle. Besides its IFN regulatory antiviral functions she could demonstrate PI3K-mediated virus-supporting activity during virus internalisation and regulation of programmed cell death. Although apoptosis is often considered as an antiviral mechanism, Dr. Ehrhardt showed that influenza viruses can take advantage of this cell suicide mechanism by modulating its timing relative to the viral replication cycle. Dr. Ehrhardt now leads her own subgroup at the Institute of Virology at the Westfälische-Wilhelms-University in Münster with research focused on different aspects of host-pathogen interactions. She is particularly interested in the study of models of dual infection with influenza viruses and bacteria. Such co-infections are often observed in patients with complicated influenza. Characterization of virulence factors of these pathogens, the cellular signalling processes that they initiate and the effects of inflammation on the outcome for the host and the pathogen are prime attention points of her research. Click here for the abstract of her talk.
Scott Hultgren (Washington University, St-Louis, USA), the plenary speaker proposed by Section D (Host and Microbes Interactions), was also the Keynote Lecturer of the Symposium. Dr Scott Hultgren graduated in Microbiology from the University of Indiana in 1981. In 1987, he obtained a PhD in Microbiology from the Northwestern University (Chicago). Between 1987 and 1989, he was post-doctoral fellow at the University of Umea, Sweden. In 1989, he was appointed as Assistant Professor of Microbiology at the Medical School of the Washington University in Saint-Louis (Missouri). In 1998, he became full Professor of this University and founded there in 2007 the “Center for Woman’s Infectious Diseases“, a Center devoted to the problem of infectious diseases of the female urinary and reproductive tracts. He is presently co-director of this Center. Dr. Hultgren is author of more than 250 publications and recipient of many distinctions including the prestigious Eli Lilly Award in 1998. His pioneering work led to decipher the assembly pathway of the filamentous appendages (pili) that allow Gram-negative bacteria to adhere to epithelial cells of the urinary tract and generate UTIs. This sophisticated pathway, that he named the “chaperone-usher” pathway, is now a classical Microbiology textbook matter and the basis of many therapeutical investigations. He also discovered that uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC) bind to, invade, and replicate within the murine bladder urothelium to form intracellular bacterial communities (IBCs). These IBCs dissociate and bacteria flux out of bladder facet cells, some with filamentous morphology, and ultimately establish quiescent intracellular reservoirs that can seed recurrent infection. These two major pieces of work of Dr. Hultgren made the UTI, one of the best understood bacterial infectious diseases and set the stage for new prophylaxis and treatment of these very common infections. This scientific success prompted Dr Hultgren to create the Center for Woman’s Infectious Diseases (cWIDR), building a new, innovative field at the intersection of women’s health, microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases.
In October 2017, Scott J. Hultgren has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine, a part of the National Academy of Sciences. Membership in the organization is one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine in the United States. Read more here.
The oral sessions of the Symposium were concluded by the Honorary Lecture. The 2017 Honorary Lecturer was given by Koen Andries, distinguished Research Fellow from the company Janssen Pharmaceutica and Extraordinary Professor at the University of Antwerp (1982-2012). Dr Andries will talk about the rocky road that led to the Discovery and Development of Bedaquiline, a new anti-tuberculosis drug. There is a dire need for new drugs to treat TB, especially multi-drug resistant TB (MDR-TB). People with MDR-TB are forced to take up to 20 pills a day with side effects that range from nausea to deafness and psychosis – to have a 50 % chance of surviving the infection. In 2012 and 2014, respectively, the FDA and EMA approved bedaquiline, the first dedicated new TB drug to be approved since 1963. The story of its discovery and development is an illustration of the challenges one needs to overcome to achieve better treatments for patients around the world. Dr Koen Andries (1951) studied Veterinary Sciences and obtained his PhD at the University of Ghent, Belgium. He joined the team of Dr. Paul Janssen in 1982. Using cell-based assays in search of antiviral compounds, his team discovered nanomolar inhibitors of uncoating of rhinoviruses, picomolar inhibitors of fusion of respiratory syncytial virus and several non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors of HIV (TIBO’s, alpha-APA’s, and DAPY’s) with high activity against wild-type and resistant HIV-1 strains. Two of these became approved drugs: etravirine – intelence® and rilpivirine – edurant®. Dr Andries also led the team that discovered R207910/TMC207 (bedaquiline – sirturo®), a first in-class new anti-tuberculosis drug, and its unique mechanism of action. Bedaquiline is the first molecule with specific activity against the ATP synthase, one of the most fundamental enzymes in biology, and the first antibiotic known to interfere with the generation of energy. He grandfathered bedaquiline from discovery to early development and eventually full development as the microbiology leader, currently studying mechanisms of resistance to the new drug. He authors 172 papers, 180 abstracts and 32 patents, and is Professor emeritus at the University of Antwerp.